Renewal’s chef Joe Wolfson keeps it simple

Chef Joe Wolfson  of Renewal embraces and values locally sourced ingredients from a flavor viewpoint. Photo by John Robinson Chef Joe Wolfson of Renewal embraces and values locally sourced ingredients from a flavor viewpoint. Photo by John Robinson

By Sam Padgett and Erin O’Hare

Chef Joe Wolfson found renewal in Charlottesville—literally. Renewal, which opened two weeks ago on West Main Street on the ground floor of the Draftsman Hotel, serves as both a culmination of Wolfson’s culinary career and an opportunity to focus his food on simplicity.

Besides an impressive collection of accolades, which includes an appearance on the Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay” and being nominated as one of America’s best new chefs by Food & Wine magazine, Wolfson has cooked in fine-dining restaurants across the country.

While it is hard to mention any modern Southern restaurant without mentioning the farm-to-table movement, Wolfson embraces and values locally sourced ingredients from a flavor viewpoint. “Simple food can be the most complex,” he says. “You have nothing to hide behind. If you have great ingredients, all you have to do is let them shine.” 

Wolfson was particularly “choosy” in deciding where to begin his next project, and his selection of Charlottesville was purposeful. For his previous restaurant, Ham and High, located in Montgomery, Alabama, Wolfson picked up his vegetables from nearby farms on the back of his four-wheeler. Even though he has only been in town for a month now, Wolfson’s already begun to incorporate regional ingredients into Renewal’s menu.

The heat is on

Although Renewal chef Joe Wolfson appeared on the Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay,” alas, Wolfson did not, in fact, beat the Flaymeister. Wolfson went head-to-head with chef Lee Frank for the honor of throwing down with the renowned chef, but he didn’t advance to the final round. Still, Wolfson says he had a wonderful time on the show.

What you see is what you get, he says. The action happens just as it’s presented—the timer is real and the dishes are composed on the spot.

“I felt like I was a middle-schooler performing a play. They really wanted you to perform, and I did just that,” he says, jokingly mentioning the 400 green Skittles he demanded in his rider.

Tasty tidbits

The North Garden Farmers Market (formerly the Red Hill Farmers Market) will have its grand opening from 3 to 7pm on Thursday, June 14, at Albemarle CiderWorks, 2545 Rural Ridge Ln. Manager of the weekly market Kathy Zentgraf (formerly of beloved vegan eatery Greenie’s at The Spot) promises booths of local produce and crafts, some food vendors, a children’s corner “and hello, the cider!”

IX Art Park is getting another tippling tenant with North American Sake Brewery, which is going into the building right underneath Three Notch’d Brewery. For the uninitiated, sake (pronounced sah-kay) is a Japanese rice wine made by fermenting rice that has been polished to remove the bran (the hard, outer layer of the rice grain, under the chaff). No word yet on when the brewery will open—it’s still in the construction phase—but the owners have built a special cedar-lined room to cultivate good koji (the fungus behind Japanese culinary staples such as sake, soy sauce and miso).

Last Friday, Albemarle Baking Company announced via its Instagram account that going forward, all of its breads would be 100 percent organic; in the past, only some of the breads were organic. “We don’t want to eat bread made from wheat that’s been treated with pesticides and you shouldn’t have to either,” the post said.