WINCHESTER — The best way to enjoy food is through an experience — with people, seated at a table, away from the distractions of cell phones and televisions — and if the setting is gorgeous, that’s even better.
What better way to do just that, than with the 2019 Root to Table Culinary Series, organized by Taste of Blue Ridge.
Founder and owner Nancy Craun said her favorite part about this year’s series is the diversity of the events.
“Not one of these events will you feel you’re doing a repeat,” Craun said. “Each location, each chef, is really looking at their emphasis and creating an event centered around their food mission. If you think that these will be alike, they are not going to be alike at all.”
In its third season, the culinary series is expanding from five to 10 events at locations in the Shenandoah Valley and the panhandle of West Virginia.
The series will feature nine top chefs and 10 guest chefs from Virginia and West Virginia. Each event will have a minimum of five chefs in addition to the host chef, participating in the preparation and presentation of courses centered around the host event’s theme. The chefs, and sometimes farmers who grow the food being prepared, will mingle with the guests throughout the evening, talking about their passions for sustainable food.
“Now we’ve been through first two years, we’ve truly defined a root-to-table event,” said Craun.
“It must have a certain element of simplicity, it must have a certain element of rustic. That doesn’t always allow us to be outdoors, but it’s got to bring the outdoors in. The most important part, there must be a sense of community spirit. When I’ve walked up to the tables of attendees at these events, it’s one of the first things people say to me. ‘I feel it. You all are such a community.’”
The series kicks off Wednesday at Harpers Ferry Brewing Co. with a private VIP party for industry advocates including chefs, farmers, and local foodies supporting sustainable food sourcing. There are events every month through November.
Locally, events will be hosted at Schenck Foods, which is the series’ title signature sponsor, The George Washington Hotel and West Oaks Farm Market.
Schenck Foods hosts A Conversation with Farmers and Chefs on Sustainability on July 18, which features a guided panel discussion on food-related topics of the day including sustainable food sourcing, the direction of the food service industry, and food waste. While it’s not a dinner like most of the other events, there will be tapas by Schenck Foods and their providers and food artisans.
On Sept. 13, The George Washington Hotel plays host to the series’ first progressive dinner. The evening begins at Audley Farm in Berryville with a first course by Chef Sandy Gallagher of The Butcher Station in Winchester, and moves to the hotel’s restaurant, George’s Food & Spirits, for the remaining courses. The experience will allow guests to see how local food is raised and then sold to restaurants here in the valley.
“People will see the beef, listen to the farmer, they’ll see where the beef is raised, and then they’ll move to the George Washington to have the main dinner,” said Craun.
On Nov. 30, the new West Oaks Farm Market on Middle Road in Frederick County hosts Celebrating History with the Winter Ice Garden Gala. Craun said event host chef, Chef Erik Foxx-Nettnin of Magolias at the Mill in Purcellville wanted to do a harvest festival-inspired event and create ice sculptures for people to admire.
Other events this year include the third annual open-air feast at Hillbrook Inn & Spa in Charles Town, W.Va., where five chefs will prepare the dinner outside and farmers and restaurant owners will mingle with guests; a glamping dinner under the stars at Landsdown Resort in Loudoun County, which will showcase an outdoor dinner using seasonal ingredients to create a Georgian and Mediterranean-style dinner.
“One of the exciting things the chefs tell me is that these are courses they may not be able to make at their restaurant,” Craun said.
“They have no pressure on them that this is a course that has to sell, this is simply a course that they are interested in creating. They are enjoying the freedom of exploration and getting people’s reactions.”
In all, there will be about 20 chefs taking part in the 2019 Root to Table Culinary Series, featuring produce, cheese, and meat from about 100 local and regional farms. Dinners will include live music by small groups to create a feeling of life in the Blue Ridge.
Craun’s goal with Taste of Blue Ridge and the Root to Table series is branding the region as a culinary destination.
“Our structure that we work under is that this is a networking food movement. It doesn’t mean that [the restaurants] couldn’t do it themselves and sell it out themselves, but they are not getting a new audience, you are not branding the area as a food destination, which will bring in more people — as well as letting the locals know.
“A lot of people in the area are traveling for the food experience. I’d like to say to them, we have people coming in nationally to this event. We are beginning to get interest from national magazines. We’re local — experience it!”
Guests can purchase tickets to individual events or buy a package of tickets to multiple events which offers a discount.
Tickets go on sale Wednesday online at www.tasteofblueridge.com/events. Itinerary weekends will be offered, matching up other food experiences you can have here in the Valley from u-pick farms to community farm stores to other food events.