Local chefs unlock creativity during virus lockdown

Travis Burgess used his quarantine time to test his pizza-making skills and refine his poke bowl recipes.
Courtesy of subject Travis Burgess used his quarantine time to test his pizza-making skills and refine his poke bowl recipes. Courtesy of subject

As lockdowns hit the area this spring, it seemed like everyone and their mother broke out the sourdough starter—professional chefs included. Travis Burgess, co-owner and chef at Bang!, Bizou, and the new pasta-to-go spot Luce, experimented at home with a cast-iron sourdough focaccia that only an enviable few will ever get to try. He admits he enjoyed his momentary home-cooking career (he and his team are now providing contactless takeout and manning a Bizou outdoor pop-up), and became especially obsessed with thick-crust pizzas and crisp, modern-ingredient poke bowls.

Other local eateries, such as MarieBette and its Petite sister, thinned their menus to combat the strain of the COVID-19 slowdown. “We’ve been cutting down our experimenting and sticking to the tried-and-true items,” says owner Jason Becton. Not immune to a little boredom-induced innovation, Becton found room on his smaller menu for a new grilled chicken sandwich called the Fluvanna, with cheddar, arugula, basil mayo, red onion, and roasted tomatoes. Meanwhile, Petite MarieBette added the Afton to its repertoire, a fried chicken sandwich topped with slaw, chipotle mayo, and housemade pickles.

Ivy Inn’s father-son duo, Tom and Angelo Vangelopoulos, used the extra time to test an expanded flavor profile, teaming up to add classic Greek moussaka and souvlaki to the menu for the restaurant’s June 18 reopening for regular service. (Ivy Inn hosted a dinner on June 19, and pledged 100 percent of its sales to Lending Hands, a Charlottesville nonprofit that supports recently incarcerated individuals.)

Restaurateurs were not the only ones counting the days till they returned to a busy kitchen. Malik Poindexter, culinary arts teacher at Albemarle High School, misses teaching in person.

Travis Burgess

It’s hard to see the drive and passion when we aren’t face to face,” he says. “It’s hard to coach them through their mistakes. Many of them are still learning that it won’t always be perfect the first time, it takes practice.”

Every chef seems to agree that cooking with people and for people is what makes their jobs truly special. “The co-workers and the adrenaline rush from a busy service were probably the two things I missed most during my brief stint as a home chef,” says Burgess.

Becton says his cooks “miss the pace of having a dining room open,” while he looks forward to  “interactions with customers and being able to talk to our regulars.” Even under quarantine, cooking, it seems, is all about the people. —Will Ham

Posted In:     Culture,Living

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