Summer brings the taste of fresh produce and veggies from farm and garden to your table. A recipe that provides an inventive way to prepare these ingredients provides an important added plus to this equation There is a new recipe book, “Top Chefs of West Virginia,” I helped to create with Maureen Crockett that emphasizes local ingredients through a retrospective look at some of our best-known West Virginia chefs.
The culinary landscape in West Virginia has changed dramatically in the past decade with the establishment of scores of new eateries — some fine dining, some simply fun family establishments. We are certain about the exponential growth because as part of its support for culinary tourism, Farm2U Collaborative, a Charleston-based nonprofit organized to promote culinary tourism and buy local, tracks and promotes hundreds of restaurants on its website at www.wvfarm2u.org.
These cafes, bistros, pubs and diners represent a range of multi-varied cuisines. So, in addition to West Virginia’s long standing Italian restaurant tradition, and some assorted Mexican and Chinese, we now count various pan-Asian, West Coast and Southwestern influenced bistros. Choices now abound even in some of the more out-of-the way spots in the Mountain State.
In 2009 and 2011, the Farm2U Collaborative solicited nominations from the public for their favorite food getaways and uploaded the information about more than 225 spots on the site. (www.farm2u.org/appalachian-culinary-landscape/unique-places-to-dine.)
So now people can use the information, somewhat like a web dating service, to find the best match for their hunger craving. For a number of folks it became a bucket list as they challenged themselves to try them all.
Served with panache
Our focus with this book is to capture recipes created by some of the tried and true chefs who laid the groundwork and helped shape West Virginia’s culinary scene. It includes the favorite recipes of 20 chefs who make it relatively easy to prepare with panache a dish that looks sufficiently complicated to impress even foodie dinner guests.
It brings recipes that present the surprising juxtaposition of what some might consider a contradiction — Appalachian and gourmet — to the food enthusiast.
Many may expect the protein in a self-described Appalachian cookbook to be opossum, squirrel and groundhog. If that was the case in frontier days, as I expect it was, it is no longer, as evidenced by these recipes.
The recipes collected span several years in the chef’s career to reflect changes in the cooking style of chefs who are well known in the region.
In the culinary world, regional interpretations can be fun, and this book provides a full range of Appalachian favorites fused with influences from around the world. Anne Hart’s Slow Roasted Pork Belly, Tomato Marmalade and Fried Leeks is a wonderful example, and the late Bill Sohovich’s recipe, Gorgonzola Polenta, is simply old-fashioned grits with butter and Gorgonzola cheese.
A great many reflect the chefs’ desire to feature local West Virginia products: Chef Brian Floyd’s Hampshire County Apple Trio is one example, and Brian Ball’s Roasted Onion and Ramp Bisque is another.
While they do impress, the recipes are also highly doable to inspire readers to try their hand at something new.
The contents include a section on each of the following: Appetizers, Snacks and Beverages, Soups, Brunch and Lunch Dishes, Sides and Salads, Poultry Entrees, Seafood Entrees, Vegetarian Main Dishes, Meat Entrees, and Baked Goods and Desserts.
The book is available at www.wvbookco.com or call 304-342-1848. All royalties from “Top Chefs of West Virginia” are used to support scholarships for high school students to post-secondary culinary schools and the Stonewall Jackson Resort Foundation.
A few of the chefs featured in the book include:
Paco Aceves’ recipes from his menus as executive chef at Bridge Road Bistro in Charleston, where he trained with Certified Master Chef Robert Wong, as well as from his days as executive chef at Stonewall Resort in Roanoke.
“The food I prepare is comfort food,” Aceves said. “I want to draw people back to their childhood dishes, the ones that we think of as real food, and to the memories of good meals.”
Richard Arbaugh is the chef/owner, with his wife Anne, of the South Hills Market and Café.
“I enjoy infusing global influences into my recipes to make local foods a new experience,” Arbaugh said. “It’s exciting to show people that there are plenty of foods available locally and not just in big cities.”
Brian Ball became a culinary legend at Snowshoe Mountain Resort in 1978 with his Red Fox Restaurant and later with Ember, a fine-dining American traditional restaurant.
“Every day in the kitchen is a new learning experience. And the best part about it? I never feel too old to play with my food,” Ball said.
Michael Brown, chef at Provence Market Café in Bridgeport, traveled the world in earlier careers. His experiences and his early country farm life combine in his cooking philosophy.
“Buy the best and forget the rest. Good products make good food,” Brown said. “If you are careful with preparation and don’t shortchange the ingredients, you’ll serve a great dish.”
Melanie Campbell served as executive chef at Snowshoe Mountain Resort for 15 years and then as assistant professor of hospitality management and executive chef/general manager of Davis & Elkins College Hospitality Services.
“Take quality ingredients, honor the traditions of good cooking methods, develop great flavors and present the food in an appealing way — that’s the best style of cooking that I know,” Campbell said.
Scott Duarte was round chef at The Greenbrier and later sous chef and assistant food service manager at Tamarack.
“I have an appreciation of good food and paying attention to the details from my family,” Duarte said. “I remember once asking my grandmother what gave her beef vegetable soup such good flavor. She told me it was adding smoked beef bones to the soup.”
Heath Finnell and his wife, Judy Spade, opened Café Bacchus in Morgantown in the fall of 2001.
“I want everyone who visits our restaurant to taste the passion for tradition that inspires my dishes. I enjoy creating pates, sausages and cured meats for our guests,” Finnell said.
Brian Floyd was named 2006 Chef of the Year by the West Virginia Chapter of the American Culinary Federation, worked at the internationally acclaimed LaVarenne Cooking School and was rounds chef at the Tavern Room at The Greenbrier Resort.
“I appreciate the simple goodness and flavors of the foods I prepare, and I enjoy discovering how different cuisines can influence and enhance those foods,” Floyd said.
Dennis O. Harris II worked out of state for a number of years and then returned to became executive chef of The Garden Cafe At Three Wishes, and later at Aubrey’s Yorkshire Pub & Eatery in St. Albans.
“I began my career more than two decades ago at Edgewood Country Club, where I started as a dishwasher. That launched my career in the culinary arts,” Harris said. “Part of my training involved working under such fine chefs as Bill Sohovich, Jerry Stihl and Dan Ferguson, who have all played a big part in shaping my cooking style.
Anne Hart is the owner and executive chef at Provence Market Café in Bridgeport.
“Every day brings a new inspiration,” Hart said. “Creating a special dish with something one of my vegetable producers grows, or one of my suppliers finds, is always exciting. I enjoy developing non-traditional recipes using very traditional Appalachian foods — things like ramp bisque and paw paw beignets.”
Dale Hawkins served at Glade Springs Resort before assuming the executive chef slot at Stonewall Resort.
“My mission is to help people discover and savor the flavors of local foods in combination with recipes that aren’t just Appalachian but that find inspiration in western European and pan-Asian cultures as well,” Hawkins said. “There’s something about preparing delicious food and sharing it with company, friends and family that satisfies and inspires me. Sharing a good meal is truly one of the greatest joys of my life.”
Derrick D. Helzer owned a catering company and restaurant in Nashville before returning to his native West Virginia to study under Certified Master Chef Peter Timmons at The Greenbrier. His catering business, Fabulous Eateries, Inc., includes Fabulous Fruits and Fabulous Cakes and Desserts. He also operates Pig Pen Catering.
“Encouraging people to discover new food tastes is a lot like introducing them to wines. They have to taste a few wines to find what suits their palates,” Helzer said. “The same is true for the tastes and textures of great, healthy foods, and once they find the ones they like, they’re hooked.”
Duane Legg, 2009 Chef of the Year as named by the American Culinary Federation West Virginia Chapter, shares his enthusiasm for food with adults and young people.
“My grandparents had huge gardens, and I was always in the kitchen watching as the garden products became wonderful meals,” Legg said. “So it’s not surprising that my favorite experience as a chef is at the market — looking for what is available and considering the many possibilities those ingredients offer me.”
Jay Mahoney is past president and chairman of the American Culinary Federation High Country Chefs Association and was its Chef of the Year. He has cooked for Rolling Stone magazine, Erma Bombeck, Walter Kronkite, Frank Sinatra and Guns & Roses.
“I can cook anywhere, anytime, for anyone. I also enjoy doing ice sculptures. The craziest one I ever did was a Porsche Targa doing a wheelie,” Mahoney said.
Joy Marr is a caterer, cooking teacher and innkeeper who offers culinary tours throughout the New River Gorge region and adventure team building programs.
“People will always have favorite foods and favorite recipes,” Marr said. “Now, I think they are realizing that they can look close to home and find wonderful quality local products to use in their preparation.”
Steve Mengel had a most impressive career as executive sous chef at The Greenbrier and has served as chief administrator for a number of years.
“Good food is not intricate. It’s simple food done right,” Mengel said. “It’s an honor for me to cook for presidents and the other dignitaries that stay at The Greenbrier, but I also strive to provide the same five-star quality foods to everyone who dines here.”
Nemat Odeh served as executive chef at Canaan Valley Resort.
“I enjoy natural flavors and textures and cook with that in mind. My recipes keep both intact. I use all natural foods as much as possible without complicating the flavors and tastes,” Odeh said.
Bill Sohovich is best known as executive chef at the Blossom and Soho’s at Capitol Market.
“I’ve cooked my whole life, so I know you can’t ever compromise on quality. That is key to our operation and it’s what our guests have come to expect,” Sohovich said. “We strive for quality, know the importance of service and work hard to serve great foods to our guests.
Tim Urbanic is chef/owner, with his wife Melody, of Café Cimino Country Inn.
“I love to cook and I want to serve our guests the best foods we have to offer,” Urbanic said. “When I serve a dish, I want every ingredient to be intense so that, together with the other ingredients, it forms a community of foods.”
Robert Wong is best known as owner and chef at the Bridge Road Bistro and as executive chef at The Greenbrier Resort.
“Whether I am looking across the table or across the stove, I want to be certain that customers and staff are enjoying their experiences. And I am always inspired by the opportunity to create a new dish or try a new recipe with a favorite ingredient,” Wong said.
Send questions or comments to Allen Arnold at email@example.com.
By Bill Sohovoch
2 cans plum tomatoes
8 ounces tomato paste
1 large onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 tablespoons dried basil
1 quart heavy cream
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon baking soda
15 basil leaves, julienned
salt & pepper to taste
Saute the onions and garlic in olive oil until soft.
Puree the plum tomatoes with a hand blender and add (juice to all) to the onions and garlic.
Add the can of tomato paste and mix well.
Add dried basil, then salt and pepper to taste.
Simmer about 45 minutes.
Add baking soda.
Cook and stir for another 15 minutes.
Warm the heavy cream and stir slowly into the soup.
Add fresh basil on top to garnish and serve.
Soupe Au Pistou (Provencal Vegetable Soup with Pistou)
By Anne Hart
20 ounce can, cannellini beans
10 cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 zucchini, small
1 yellow onion
2 stalks celery
2 tomatoes, large
½ pounds green beans
¼ cup parsley, chopped
3 ounces small macaroni or vermicelli
salt & ground pepper to taste
Sweat the onion, celery, leeks and the carrots in the olive oil until tender in a skillet.
Add the zucchini, green beans and the potatoes, and continue to cook till the vegetables are tender.
Add the canned cannellini beans, parsley, tomatoes, the cooked vegetables and the pasta.
Simmer uncovered for approximately 20 minutes.
6 cloves garlic
40 fresh basil leaves
½ cup olive oil
½ cup Parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons tomato paste
salt & ground pepper to taste
Combine the basil and garlic until a paste forms.
Add a little of the oil and continue mashing until smooth.
Incorporate the tomato paste and finally the Parmesan cheese.
Season with salt and pepper.
Ladle the soup into bowls. Top the soup with a tablespoon or two of the pistou.
Serve with crusty French bread and a traditional rosé wine from Provence.