12 December 2016
E.A.T.’s culinary adventure on December 12th, in Richmond, VA – Revolutionary Celebrations – tracks two distinct, but parallel narratives. The first is a story encompassing America’s beginnings through the lens of the Randolph family, who, fleeing religious persecution fled to the New World in the 1600’s, eventually settling and making a home in Virginia. Over the centuries that followed, their home would bear witness to the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, the Great Depression, and come to find itself as an essential cultural resource in the present day. (For an interview with Keith McKay, Executive Director of Wilton House, click here.)
The second story told through the course of E.A.T.’s inaugural event is the story of Cooking, both as a basic necessity and also as an art form. Amid a five-course meal, the menu prepared by Brandon Bundy (Executive Chef, Juleps, Richmond, VA) took E.A.T.’s guests through a timeline of culinary history, from the dawn of man’s first hunter-gatherer societies, all the way to the molecular gastronomy and fine dining we now see in restaurants the world over.
Our story begins at the gorgeous Wilton House (built c. 1753), which was originally designed as the focal point of a 2,000-acre tobacco plantation in colonial Virginia. Now, a cultural hub that is headquarters for the Virginia Dames, a working museum that hosts numerous public events throughout the year, and a recognized historical landmark, the Wilton House was the venue for E.A.T.’s inaugural event – Revolutionary Celebrations.
As E.A.T.’s guests arrived at Wilton, they walked up to the front of the historic home, where they glimpsed candlelit interiors, and got a chance to explore the historic space, being briefly transported back to the 18th century. Many of our guests also brought with them items to donate to Wilton’s Winter Mission, which is ongoing through the month of December. Much in the way that the Randolph tobacco plantation was the center of the community beck in 1753, Wilton today strives to connect and give back to the community it calls home. The holiday mission, various exhibitions and symposiums that Wilton brings through its doors, and events like E.A.T.’s are just a few of the ways that Wilton continues to act as a vital part of our community.
After strolling through the candlelit parlor and peeking into the past lives of the Randolph family in the beautiful home, our guests walked down the brick path and over to the event space, where the tables were set and the bartender was preparing a Wassail Cocktail, a drink which has influences that date all the way back to the Middle Ages.
Of course, for our purposes we tweaked the drink a bit, bringing it into the modern day. The cocktail consisted of a mulled apple cider that incorporated pomegranate juice, lemon juice, and aromatic spices like cinnamon and clove.
After this Christmas-y beginning (seriously, the Wassail Cocktail smells like Christmas in a glass), the guests were seated and prepared to experience a timeline of culinary history. Chef Bundy’s menu began with a nod to the hunter-gatherer societies of early man, when only fresh foods were available to eat. The first course was “FRESH” – a Tidewater Raw Oyster with Blood Orange Mignonette, Balsamic Pearls, Micro-Radish.
After this beginning, Chef Bundy jumped ahead to about 15,000 years ago, just as farming was starting to provide the more stable foundation necessary to settle and grow society. His second course, “FARM,” was a Roasted Magness Pear with Victory Farms Spinach, Marcona Almond, and Purple Haze.
At this point, Chef Bundy asked himself what is the next natural step after a departure from the nomadic lifestyle, and the ability to grow food at a “home base.” The conclusion he came to was, exploration. In order to explore, people need to be able to bring food with them on their journey that keeps for several weeks at a time. Enter, the curing and pickling techniques that date back about 4,000 years.
Chef Bundy’s third course, “CURE,” consisted of Colonel Newsom’s Country Ham, Stayman Apple Butter, Pickles, and a Buttermilk Biscuit. Interestingly enough, the family that runs Colonel Newsom’s ham shop dates back to Jamestown in 1642. After settling in Virginia, the family moved to Kentucky where they inhabited land bequeathed to them from a Revolutionary War grant, but I wonder if they were friendly with the Randolph’s. Odds are, they knew the family – there may be a chance this wasn’t the first time that Colonel Newsom’s Ham was eaten at the Wilton House!
As our culinary timeline got closer to our current moment in culinary history, the techniques that Chef Bundy used became increasingly complex. The fourth course of our meal marked the beginning of cooking as an art, in France about 200 years ago. For “BRAISE,” Chef Bundy prepared a Border Springs Lamb Neck with Sweet Potato, Brussels Sprouts, and a Red Beet Marshmallow. One of our guests stated that this particular course might have been “the single best dish I’ve had.” (To be fair, Chef Bundy said himself that braising is his favorite technique, so the fact that he is proficient in it is no surprise – but that Lamb Neck!)
Finally, our meal concluded in the amalgamation of food and science with Chef Bundy’s final course, “MOLECULAR.” Here, Chef Bundy employed culinary techniques only 30 years old to take something familiar, and make it new again (sort of like the rediscovery of a colonial home in Richmond, VA…).
The final course was an Heirloom Pumpkin Pie with an Oatmeal Cookie, Maple Dust, and Ginger Foam. This delightfully sweet end to the evening brought full circle our journey from hunter-gatherer societies to the present day. As the tables were cleared and guests dispersed, Wilton was left to bask in the moonlight after bearing witness to just one more night of revelry and enjoyment in its centuries-long history.
To see what Chef Bundy is up to, and pay him a visit, stop by Juleps! And follow them on Instagram (@julepsinrva) and Twitter (@JulepsRVA). No doubt, Chef Bundy and the rest of the Julep’s crew would be happy to see you, and show you why Julep’s is one of the most elegant representations of Southern cuisine you will find in Virginia.
Remember to keep up with E.A.T. and our continued culinary explorations! Our Upcoming Events page is a great place to look for a chance to join us on one of our dining adventures — Come be a part of our shared narrative!