Susan Winiecki, co-owner of Real Richmond Food Tours and associate publisher of Richmond Magazine, says the city’s shift into the culinary spotlight started about 15 years ago when chef Jason Alley opened his restaurant, Comfort, on downtown’s once-desolate Broad Street.
Now, that corridor is thriving.
“We have galleries there, we have a brand-new boutique hotel called Quirk,” Winiecki said.
Alley opened his second Richmond restaurant, Pasture, on Grace Street, and similar to his first, five additional restaurants followed his lead. Winiecki says this has happened in other neighborhoods across the city, including Church Hill, Oregon Hill and Scott’s Addition.
“You know, restaurants follow restaurants. It takes people with the fortitude and foresight of saying, ‘I’m really going to make this neighborhood my home,’ and it draws others,” Winiecki said.
This month, Richmond is celebrating its burgeoning food community with the annual Fire, Flour & Fork festival, Nov. 17 through 20. The four-day event was founded by Winiecki and her Real Richmond Food Tours business partner Maureen Egan three years ago.
This year’s event is packed with 45 dinners, demos, tastings and tours put on by hometown heroes, as well as chefs from all over the country, including several from the D.C. area.
“We saw that there was the need for more — a larger scale event,” Egan said.
And she wanted to build one that was different from the typical food festival.
For starters, Fire, Flour & Fork is not in a convention center; it takes place all over town in restaurants, museums and historic landmarks.
And Egan says it’s “not a ‘stick-your-glass-out and get-it-filled-up kind of thing.’” The events are intimate and interactive.
“We want each event to feel very special and not feel like you’re just in a herd being pushed around from place to place. We want everyone to get a sense of Richmond while they’re here,” she added. “We just wanted to show off Richmond to all sorts of people.”
If you need some guidance tackling the schedule, Egan says the event that will have “the most bang-for-your-buck and the most Richmond in one room” is Thursday night’s Cornucopia dinner, also called “Friendsgiving,” at the John Marshall Hotel. Local wines, ciders and beers will be poured alongside a feast prepared by 15 Virginia chefs.
On Saturday, festivalgoers can take up to five different culinary classes at The Valentine Museum, and at Vagabond, Barboursville Vineyard’s Jason Tesauro will pour 26 wines from around the world.
Another can’t-miss experience is Saturday’s Pie in the Sky, where participants can devour sweet and savory pies atop the observation deck at City Hall. This is a great opportunity to include the kids, since there will also be popcorn, craft soda and plenty of chances to get your hands dirty with a rolling pin and dough.
The whole festival wraps up on Sunday with a panel discussion on cooking’s creative process with Questlove at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
“Then we’re going to do a dinner at the very end, based on everyone’s memories related to music and food,” Winiecki said.
If you can’t make it down to Fire, Flour & Fork, you can still get a taste of the capital city with a quick food-fueled Richmond road trip — and Winiecki has a few recommendations for your itinerary.
For starters, spend an afternoon in Scott’s Addition. This once-industrial section of town is now the brewing center of the city.
“It has really come into its own the past year. You have cideries, breweries, you have craft liquor that is being made there, whether it’s whiskey or gin nearby. You can have an incredible afternoon literally walking from block to block and going to the tasting rooms,” she said.