Though it is not a prominent topic on The Cheats Movement, I am a huge fan for RVA’s growing food scene (check my Instagram for my food pics) and growing number of food blogs. I read several RVA food sites these days, starting with my good friend Kristel Poole’s, Stirring Things Up. I also read Nicole Lang’s, Food Punk, Liz Parent’s, I Heart Vegetables, and a few more. I was recently introduced to a new favorite, Bird Cox’s, Block and Bar site is a wonderful new addition to my daily reads.
Last week, I met up with Kristel, Bird, and our significant others (party of 6) at Saison in Jackson Ward, to have a meal and talk about RVA’s food scene, blogging and general life stuff. It was a great time with friends. And in the days following the dinner, we got a little more “focused” about discussing RVA’s food scene. Here is some of our conversation about RVA food + blogging in more of an interview format. WE SEE IT!
Tell me about your food blog? When did you start it and what type of content do you cover for your readers?
Kristel: My blog is called Stirring Things Up and I’ve had it since 2010. I do a combination of recipes, general musings, recommendations and occasionally a review or two. I try to keep the focus on seasonal and fresh ingredients, usually based on things I find at the farmers market or receive in my CSA box.
Bird: Block and Bar is new; it launched on June 6th. I’m focusing on the people behind brilliant, creative food and drink – personal histories, inspirations, risks, stories they’re trying to tell with what they do. The site functions as a rotating series of columns, each with a different method of delivering the story. [COMPOSITION] asks chefs to discuss the creation of the original menu for their restaurants, [DOUBLE VISION] is a chef/bartender conversation, [YOU ARE], as in you are what you eat, is about a chef’s lifelong relationship with food and features a handwritten component that feels very personal. There are a few other columns on the docket, too.
Why did you decide to funnel your passion for food into a blog?
Bird: I used to be a food writer for the C-ville Weekly, and since then, I’ve been really interested in the relationship between food and language. When I eat a meal, I am constantly describing it to myself, trying to unlock the perfect words to describe flavors, textures, feelings. It helps me get more enjoyment out of it somehow. Plus I keep a pretty insane mental tally of chefs’ names – all the chefs I’ve ever really loved. I remember them better than my ex-boyfriends.
Kristel: This made me laugh because I’m the exact same way. It’s also a different form of celebrity. Some people remember meeting Robin Williams (I’ve met him too, he’s nice) and some people remember meeting Chef Mile Isabella after an amazing meal at Zatinya in 2010 where they ate the best baba ganoush of their lives and drank sparkling rose. Ex-boyfriends, who?
Food is one of the few things in life that brings intense feeling and emotion. Love, sex, death and food. Someone famous said that, so I’m paraphrasing, but it’s true.
I make a lot of dishes at home that I really love, but then never remember how to make again. I usually don’t use a pre-existing recipe and if I do, I never follow it. I’m a terrible recipe cook. So I decided that I wanted to record what I made, how I made things, and then I wanted to maybe help someone else cook something good. I say that last because I don’t consider myself an expert and I didn’t start my blog with the intention of teaching anyone anything. That seems a little pretentious to me. I just like to share what excites me about food and keep track of what works and what doesn’t.
What are your thoughts on RVA as a food town (what works well – what needs to be improved)?
Kristel: When I moved here from Charlottesville in 2005, I was most distraught about the lack of good food options at various price points. I didn’t find that accessibility to great food here, but the dining scene has picked up since then. Now, I know where to go no matter what my budget or mood. I’m grateful to the chefs, restaurateurs and diners for supporting the local restaurant community and helping it grow into what it is today. It’s pretty spectacular.
Bird: Working well: innovative southern cuisine, Italian cuisine, farm/restaurant connections, a sense of using the best that Virginia has to offer (oysters, ham, mushrooms, veggies). Needs to be improved: there are a lot of types of cuisine that we lack, or almost lack. Two Ethiopian places, no matter how good, does not allow for much exploration across the range of Ethiopian food. Same for Korean. There are a couple, but not enough to give each kitchen the freedom to specialize or make more unusual offerings. On the whole, I think the food industry in Richmond is on an amazing creative arc right now, though. We’ve got some big talent, both in the kitchen and behind the bar.
Kristel: Oh my. We don’t have a good Korean place. I was just chatting with someone about this. Thai is obviously a sore subject for me here. I think we lack good Mexican. Hawaiian? I wish! More diversity would be great. I would celebrate that.
Tell me your favorite restaurants in RVA?
Bird: Number one: The Roosevelt. I ate a plate of fried oysters there that made me shed a little tear of joy. There are so many others, but to name a few… Heritage is brilliant (charcuterie, pork fries), Saison (sopes, steak), Peter Chang’s (crispy eggplant, hot pot), Tio Pablo (literally anything). And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Acacia, Black Sheep and Lemaire, all of whom have made miracles on the plate. For drinks, the Roosevelt, Saison and Heritage are also entering brave new worlds. And conquering them.
Kristel: I think it would be remiss to not mention Belmont Butchery, GrowRVA and Yellow Umbrella Provisions. It’s not dining out, but I think the dining community relies heavily on how people are eating and cooking at home. Don’t you agree?
Cheats: I certainly agree (haha).
Kristel: I love Stella’s for really wonderful Greek food. Everything there is fabulous and it’s perfect for happy hour or a birthday celebration. I love the whole branzino, the grilled octopus, the taramasolata (a dip made from caviar) and the black kale salad. Acacia Midtown is the other go-to restaurant in my house. We go there for lots of celebrations, and they offer a great fixed menu every night with wine specials on Tuesdays. It’s reliable and the seafood is always good; the servers are knowledgeable and the service is spectacular. I’ve recently become obsessed with sandwiches from Uptown Market & Deli and I will always drive to Mechanicsville to get Thai food from Pad Thai Restaurant. They do it right and pretty much everywhere else I’ve tried isn’t authentic at all. Don’t use button mushrooms in your tom yum, Richmond. Ok? Other favorites are Mamma Zu’s, Edo’s, Dutch & Company, The Roosevelt, Deco, Saison, Black Sheep, Mama J’s, Burger Bach and Pizza Tonight.
What is your ultimate last meal?
Kristel: It would be a long meal and it would be small plates from all over the world. I love strong flavors and bold cuisine. I’d have to have something from every genre because I am not one of those people who can commit to being a fan of Italian and only Italian. There are too many great flavors out there. It would be super fresh, local, and served with really good wine and sparkling water; dessert would be a Yoder’s doughnut.
Bird: Anything that Andy Ricker (of Pok Pok, a northern Thai spot in Portland, OR) would deign to make for me. There are three things in life that I think are beyond reproach: Ray Charles records, little tiny babies, and Andy Ricker’s cooking. If I died choking on a fish sauce wing, I wouldn’t even be that mad about it
Cheats: RVA, That’s all for now. I hope to continue this conversation with Kristel, Bird, and other food fans across RVA. Until next time – follow these wonderful sites: Stirring Things Up and Block and Bar. WE SEE IT.