Ooh la la! A Summer Dinner Inspiration from Provence

Words and recipes by Liz McAvoy Gabriel, with photography by Sarah Gerrity


Close your eyes. Think about what summer feels like. A hot grill. A cold glass of wine. A garden overflowing with fresh herbs. Those damn mosquitos nipping at your ankles. The laughter and helping hands of friends around the table.

It’s simple stuff, really. But it’s some of the best stuff.

Ok, now that we’re in the mood, let’s set a more specific scene:  Summer. In. Provence.

There’s rosé. There’s butter. There’s lemon. There’s garlic. There’s more butter.


That’s the scene we decided to set on a recent Sunday afternoon in a backyard in Northeast DC. Because even if we weren’t on holiday, we wanted to feel like we were.

And here’s is what that looked like:

A charcuterie board brimming with fresh tapenade, peppery salami, and plenty of radishes swiped thoroughly with herbed butter. Arugula tossed with peppery mustard vinaigrette and plenty of shaved Parmesan. Barely blanched haricot verts dotted with jeweled sungold tomatoes and a drizzle of balsamic reduction. A golden roast chicken glistening with white wine pan sauce.

And the ultimate fan favorite:  A whole grilled fish.


It sounds intimidating. We were intimidated. But the mark of great summer food is simple, bright ingredients – and a grill. So we tackled the whole-fish challenge. You can do it too. 

Whole Grilled Fish with Tomato Vinaigrette

  • 1 or 2 medium whole branzino
  • 1 lemon
  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup shelled pistachios
  • 3 large ripe red tomatoes, cored and seeded
  • 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • Fresh thyme
  • Fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Clean the fish and rub the inside with softened butter. Insert thinly sliced lemon rounds and halved garlic cloves into the cavity. Season exterior with fresh cracked pepper and flaky salt. Place fish in the fridge while you prepare the pistachios and vinaigrette.

Grind the pistachios in a food processor until relatively fine. Toast the ground nuts carefully over medium heat in a small pan for 3 to 4 minutes. Set aside.

Grate the flesh of the tomatoes on the large-holed side of a box grater and transfer to a medium mixing bowl. Add the vinegar, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and thyme. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat the grill to medium-high heat. Place a sheet of aluminum foil on the grill and brush with oil. Place the whole fish on the foil and close the grill, allowing it to cook for 6 minutes, or until the skin releases from the foil. Carefully flip the fish and cook an additional 6 minutes on the other side.

Drizzle tomato vinaigrette over fish before serving and finish with pistachio crumb, a sprinkle of capers, and fresh parsley. Serve with lemon wedges.

To portion fish, use a spoon to carefully separate the head and the tail from the body. Then delicately portion the top filet of the fish onto your guests’ plates. You’ll then be able to remove the spine and get to the bottom filets. Let your guests know there’ll be bones – this comes with the whole-fish territory.  We’re grownups,  we can handle it.

Now that you’ve licked your plate and made your way through a few bottles of chilled wine – you’re probably thinking about dessert. That’s where ice cream comes in.

You can make it yourself (we made a delicate and refreshing Earl Gray-Lavender version). Or you can buy some fresh vanilla – that totally counts, too. And you’ll want fresh fruit. Maybe some honey. Maybe some cookies or crisps for swiping through your ice cream. That’s all there is to this.

Summer should feel easy.

Words and recipes by Liz McAvoy Gabriel. Photos by Sarah Gerrity. Want more? Liz and Sarah are sharing the other recipes from this Provençal feast on their Instagram feeds.


Chef Nic Tang Brings a Singapore Delicacy to DC

DBGB’s Summer Voyage Series showcases Singapore and a favorite national dish, Chili Crab

Words and photography by Sabrina Medora, Edible DC contributor

My love affair with food began around the age of 10 when I found myself spending all my summers and winters in Singapore exploring hawker stalls and, well, more hawker stalls. A melting pot of Cantonese, Malay, and Indian cuisines, Singapore is truly heaven on earth for food enthusiasts. Nowadays, the minute my plane touches down, I head over to the closest hawker stall for a comforting helping of Hainanese chicken rice. The next morning, it’s off to find salty, slurpy kwae taio for breakfast. Let’s not forget dim sum at tea time. And, at some point, Chili Crab (preferably on a plastic chair, beachside, at East Coast Parkway) is a necessity.

 Singapore Chili Crab in its glory, thanks to Chef Nic Tang and DBGB.

Singapore Chili Crab in its glory, thanks to Chef Nic Tang and DBGB.

Chili Crab is both a Singaporean delicacy and a masterpiece. Served whole, massive Dungeness crabs are bathed and served, still simmering, in a thick chili sauce that will take your breath away. To eat chili crab is, at minimum, an hour’s commitment. No phones. No fancy clothes. Just you, your hands and that crab. Drippings are mopped up with crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside mantou buns, a steamed bread that is deep fried. 

It truly is delicious, making it to #29 on CNN Travel's World's 50 Best Foods. The mere memory of chili sauce running down to my elbows as I enthusiastically suck crab from the depths of shell is enough to send me into bliss. Bliss that Chef Nicholas Tang of DBGB has been able to recreate and share here in D.C.

 Chef Tang hard at work preparing Chili Crab.

Chef Tang hard at work preparing Chili Crab.

In celebration of Singapore’s National Day (August 9), Chef Tang threw a Singapore Chili Crab dinner that left diners speechless—and enthusiastically sucking crab. With a spread that included his grandmother’s deep friend wonton recipe, Chinese chicken satay, chili crab and Chef Tang’s own take on another beloved crab recipe, Black Pepper Crab, it was a feast for true food fiends.

 Chicken satay. 

Chicken satay. 

 Fried wontons, Tang's grandmother's recipe.

Fried wontons, Tang's grandmother's recipe.

“Every recipe is my own. I tried to source as many authentic ingredients that I could. I did have to tone down the spice a little though,” Chef Tang chuckles as diners inquire about the spread.

The unspoken camaraderie that reverberated around the table as people from all backgrounds and walks of life came together to share in the experience was truly wonderful. Some were familiar with chili crab while others were thrilled at the discovery.

 Tang presents a platter of crab.

Tang presents a platter of crab.

While the meal itself may have paid full homage to Chef Tang’s heritage, the dessert spoke to Chef Tang’s future as a chef. A sublime kaya profiterole displayed perfect balance between classic Singaporean flavors and precise French technique.

 A kaya profiterole, perfect ending. 

A kaya profiterole, perfect ending. 

The Summer Voyage series is a perfect chance to “travel by eating,” with a new country each upcoming weekend. The precision and passion that Chef Tang and the entire DBGB team exhibited for this fun summer project are an added bonus.

The next culinary journeys on DGBG’s Summer Voyage list will take you to:

  • Greece—August 24-26
  • Southern Italy—August 31-Sept. 2
  • Northern Italy—Sept. 7-9

DGBG is located in City Center DC at 931 H St NW. For more information, go to dbgb.com/dc


Ladybugs Alive!

Lose yourself but find butterflies and more in a sunflower maze in St. Mary's County

  A zebra swallowtail rests on a sunflower while collecting nectar

A zebra swallowtail rests on a sunflower while collecting nectar

Words and photography by Thomas Martin, Edible DC contributor

Along the two-lane backroad that connects the towns of Clements and Morganza in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, you will find "Ladybugs Alive!", a field of a thousand suns—or sunflowers, rather. The flowers are planted in a large field across the street from Chopticon High School and are cleverly arranged in a maze-like pattern. From the air, the gaps between the sunflowers form the image of a cow leaping over a smiling crescent moon. But from the ground (especially from a child’s perspective) the field is a towering forest of green and yellow, buzzing and chirping with the sounds of life.

I arrived at the maze around half past noon on Friday and parked my car (parking is free of charge). A red tent marked the entrance of the maze, where I was greeted with a warm welcome and a cold bottle of water. I paid the entrance fee (children 6 and under can enter for free, but for everyone else admission is $10) and grabbed a marker and a clipboard with a set of laminated sheets. The sheets listed local insects and birds likely to be found in the maze. Visitors can check off the species they find, like an ecological scavenger hunt.

Just before the entrance, there was an aerial map of the entire maze attached to a post in the ground. I snapped a photo of it just in case, but I was determined to make it through the maze on my own.

  The shape of the sunflower maze appears unrecognizable from the ground, but a bird's eye view reveals the image of a cow jumping over the moon.

The shape of the sunflower maze appears unrecognizable from the ground, but a bird's eye view reveals the image of a cow jumping over the moon.

When I crossed the threshold into the maze, I was immediately inundated with the sweet fragrance of so many sunflowers (more than fifteen thousand) crammed into a single field. As I progressed through what I guessed was one of the cow’s hind legs, the sunflowers rose in height, the tallest of them leaning perilously over my head like yellow street lanterns. Outside the maze, I was a taller-than-average person—but in here, I was a pipsqueak, the tiny mammal scurrying well below the heads of thousands of ten-foot-tall sentinels.

The noise within the maze is difficult to gauge before entering, but inside it can only be described as a symphony. Honeybees dot the brown disks of the sunflowers with black and yellow stripes, gently humming as they search for nectar. Grasshoppers lie in disguise on the footpath until a visitor startles them into flurries of green and black. As I stepped around a fallen flower, a drowsy bumblebee ricocheted off my shoulder and buzzed away slightly annoyed. In hindsight, I probably should have avoided wearing a salmon-colored shirt with yellow Bermuda shorts to a sunflower maze. Resident bees had been feeding on nothing but sunflowers for days, and if the first reddish object that crossed their path was not a delectable echinacea, but a button-up from Old Navy, I’d be pretty irked too.

The bees and the grasshoppers were fascinating, but as a kid, I had always been intrigued by butterflies. The swallowtails were easy to spot in the maze. Their bright yellow wings stood out against the dark heads of the sunflowers. The cabbage whites stayed low to the ground and practically glowed in the midday sunlight. I checked off both species with my marker.  

  Ladybugs Alive! offers a sunflower maze, a petting zoo and other activities for visitors young and old.

Ladybugs Alive! offers a sunflower maze, a petting zoo and other activities for visitors young and old.

I was coming around the cow’s lower jaw when I spotted it: a flash of orange and black, just inside my peripheral vision. Could it be? I turned around and backtracked to follow the orange blur, crossing into the cow’s front left hoof. It crested over a path of sunflowers, then reversed and flew south towards the moon’s outer crescent. I made several turns trying to catch another glimpse of what I suspected might be a monarch, that increasingly rare butterfly with vibrant orange and black wings and gentle white dots on its thorax. But in my fervent chase, I lost whatever tenuous sense of direction I had, and was now wandering cluelessly among the flowers.

After encountering several dead ends, I came across a group of three high school students taking selfies with the sunflowers. (The maze is an excellent photo-op for the Instagram-inclined.) They seemed to know their way around the maze pretty well, and when they saw the aimless expression in my eyes, they offered to help lead me to the exit. Gratefully accepting their offer, I'd like to point out that technically, I didn't use the map to solve the maze. Technically.

Just before exiting the maze, I spotted it again: that orange blur in the corner of my eye. The blur alighted on a nearby sunflower for a precious moment, just long enough to confirm that it was indeed a monarch, and not a similar copycat species as I had feared when I first caught a glimpse of it. A second later, the butterfly was borne aloft by a rare cool wind and vanished.


"Ladybugs Alive!" can be found at 25120 Colton Point Road, Morganza, Maryland. The maze is open Sunday through Thursday from 10:00 AM to 8:30 PM, and Friday and Saturday from 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM. Admission is free for children 6 and under, and $10 for ages 7+. Tickets for daycare and school groups are just $5 per child and $10 per adult chaperone, and there is a 20%-off military discount. There is also a small petting zoo and craft activities for younger visitors to enjoy. Evening visits may feature unique critters such as moths and lightning bugs that are not found during the day. Their website is https://www.designeragllc.com/.

An Awakening at the Inn at Little Washington

By Nevin Martell, Edible DC Contributor

 Indira and Nevin Martell dining at the Inn at Little Washington.

Indira and Nevin Martell dining at the Inn at Little Washington.

“Pack your swimsuit, your passport and something nice to wear at dinner.”

Those were my girlfriend’s instructions for my birthday weekend getaway more than a decade ago.

Where are we going? What are we doing? Can you give me a hint? I pestered her endlessly, but Indira refused to reveal anything more.

So, on a Friday afternoon in late September, we got in the car and drove out of DC. At first, I thought our route might take us to Reagan National or Dulles International, but soon enough both airports were in our rearview mirror.

As we drove farther and farther out into the state’s greenbelt, I became more confused and curious. Finally, we pulled into a sleepy burg in Rappahannock County.

“We’re having dinner at the Inn at Little Washington—no passport or swimsuit required,” Indira finally revealed. “I took a poll of everyone at the office and they all agreed it was the best restaurant in the area.”

The stately teal manse with white accents on the corner of the town’s center certainly looked impressive. Stepping inside amplified the sense of grandeur, because I felt like I was entering an elegant French manor house. Though I grew up the son of a restaurateur and had dined around the world while traveling with my family, I wasn’t prepared for the experience that followed.

First, there was the service. It was beyond elevated, while never feeling stuffy or overbearing. The staff at the fancier restaurants I dined at previously seemed to excel at making patrons feel uninformed and somehow inferior. There was none of that at the Inn. The sommelier gracefully took a gauge of our likes and dislikes, and then recommended a reasonably priced bottle, while the server happily answered all of our questions about the food and the restaurant’s history. We were so at ease so quickly, we could have been having dinner at a dear relative’s house.

And then Chef Patrick O’Connell’s food began to arrive. Each new course was wondrous in its own way. Indira and I would each try our selection, and then insist the other taste what we had just eaten because it was so magical. To be honest, I don’t remember the individual dishes as much as I remember the delight I felt with each new presentation and taste. I do recall the mosaic of thin-sliced lamb carpaccio with orbs of ice cream that delivered all the flavors of a Caesar salad, which still endures as one of O’Connell’s most iconic creations.

It was easily one of the best meals of my life. I knew I wouldn’t forget it. However, I didn’t realize it would awake a deeper appreciation for food and a desire to learn more about the stories behind it. As we drove back to DC at the end of the weekend, I was still buzzing, absolutely electrified by the experience.

Over the ensuing years, the feeling didn’t fade. If anything, it grew stronger, and so I began eating out as much as possible. Back then, the DC dining scene was still relatively nascent—compared to where it has evolved to today—but there were still lots of great restaurants and talented chefs. I still treasure meals I had at Michel Richard’s Citronelle, a just-opened Volt and with Victor Albisu when he was still helming BLT Steak.

When Indira and I traveled, we’d always make sure to program a lot of good eats into our itinerary. In 2009, we picked Anguilla as our honeymoon destination because we read somewhere that the Caribbean island has more restaurants per square mile than New York City. I’m not sure if that boast is true, but we barely stopped eating for two weeks straight.

Every stop on this journey introduced me to new ingredients, new cuisines, new talents and new favorite restaurants. I wanted to share everything I was learning with anyone who would listen, so I decided to quit my job as a television development executive and go back to being a freelance writer. However, instead of focusing on music and pop culture as I had before, now I would be all about food.

It was perfect timing. The ascent of the region’s restaurant scene gave me plenty of stories to tell. Over the next few years, I wrote for The Washington Post, Men’s Journal, Travel + Leisure, NPR, Eater and others, and I penned cookbooks with Founding Farmers and Red Truck Bakery.

No matter where I get to dine for work or pleasure these days, I still love celebrating special occasions at the Inn, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Last fall, I told my wife pack a bag for her birthday weekend getaway. It didn’t take her long to guess where we were going, but that didn’t detract from her delight. This time, we sat at one of the kitchen tables so we could watch the creative process unfold. As we savored our meal and exchanged bites, we talked about how much had happened in the 10 years since we first dined at the Inn—and how much of it happened because we had dined at the Inn.


You’re Looking Swell at 40: The Inn at Little Washington Celebrates a Big Birthday

 Before it became a decorated hub for fine dining, the building that currently houses the Inn at Little Washington was once a gas station.

Before it became a decorated hub for fine dining, the building that currently houses the Inn at Little Washington was once a gas station.

Tucked away in Rappahannock County, what was once a gas station is now one of the most esteemed restaurants in the U.S. Forty years ago, The Inn at Little Washington opened its doors on January 28. No one could have anticipated it would become a legend.

The bumpy-start stories are well known and seem quaint, mainly revolving around purveyors and diners asking, “Where are we?” No liquor license—the county was dry. A staff of three on opening night. Yet, the buzz started very soon and months after the opening, a Washington, DC, restaurant critic pronounced that it was the best restaurant “within a radius of 150 miles of the nation’s capital.”

Those who had wondered if Chef Patrick O’Connell could be successful then worried that he couldn’t keep winning accolade after accolade. Perhaps 40 years is proof enough. The little Inn that could has won five James Beard Awards, five Diamonds from AAA, two Michelin stars and has become the longest-tenured Five Star restaurant in America.

The Inn’s team announced early in the year that, much like the Queen of England’s Jubilee year, celebrations for The Inn would take place over the year. From press materials: “Over the course of 2018 we will celebrate Patrick’s 40-year legacy as the ‘Pope of American Cuisine’ with four events focused on philanthropy, historical preservation and relationships.”

At Mount Vernon, on June 16, Chef O’Connell will hold a garden party to benefit the Mt. Vernon Ladies’ Association, and on Sept. 2, the Washington village will become Innstock for an all-day celebration “channeling Woodstock.” This event will feature a “family reunion” of former employees who return to create an outdoor feast, open to the public. For more information, go to theinnat40.com.

Chefs Christian Irabién and Adam Greenberg Take On Summer

By Adam Greenberg and Christian Irabién, photography by Jennifer Chase

  Corn, peaches, blueberries, and tomatoes are the stars of a pool party menu.

Corn, peaches, blueberries, and tomatoes are the stars of a pool party menu.

Christian Irabién and Adam Greenberg. Two chefs opening new restaurants in DC this fall. Two very concepts and cuisines. The team at Edible DC asked them to come together for a collaborative menu for a pool party using four of our favorite summer fruits and vegetables. Bravo, chefs! The wonderful result was a colorful explosion of summer flavors. Both Irabién and Greenberg explain their concepts:

  Ensalada de nopalitos con quelites (Fresh cactus salad with field greens)

Ensalada de nopalitos con quelites (Fresh cactus salad with field greens)

Irabién grew up in his family's restaurants in Mexico and Texas and in his grandmother's kitchen. After spending several years in finance and international development, he searched for some sense of purpose and slowly found that in food. He did culinary studies at night while working full time, staging wherever he could on weekends until he felt ready to make a hard left and cook full time. 

  Pickled blueberry mignonette with oysters

Pickled blueberry mignonette with oysters

He tells us, “There are two main roots the restaurant concept is born out of: The first, my need to share my story and experience as a Mexican-born, American-raised person in a quest to find identity through the flavors and ingredients I grew up with. Secondly, to push back against the notion that the Mexican diet is purely made up of tacos and tamales. I'm tired of people telling me what Mexican food is and isn't. I am just trying to create a great place to eat great food in a place I would go eat and hang out in with a lot of soul, a lot of masa and a lot of mezcal.

  Aguachile de camarón con durazno (Shrimp and peach aguachile)

Aguachile de camarón con durazno (Shrimp and peach aguachile)

This place will be Amparo Fondita, a modern and authentic Mexican restaurant that pays homage to the heritage-based cuisine of Mexico’s many and diverse coastal regions. According to Irabién, Amparo is all about disruption, and a representation of what the modern Mexican's diet is, beyond tacos and quesadillas. Disrupting the notion that Mexican food must continue to be a caricature born out of the same cut and copy template.

 Brined pork chops with peach compote

Brined pork chops with peach compote

Greenberg has been cooking since he was a teenager, with a lot of varied experience. But he found his inspirations for his first restaurant, the upcoming Coconut Club, on the West Coast. He loved the atmosphere and cuisine at San Francisico’s highly rated Liholiho Yacht Club, a restaurant credited with delivering a true taste of Hawaiian island food life. Greenberg’s vision to create his own version is well underway as he is completing the buildout of space working with DC-based design firm Edit Lab, that will have diners experiencing an airy, light-hearted, escapist feeling of being away. He aims to cater to guests who love adventure and travel, and everything from the music to the carefully created tiki drinks with locally sourced ingredients will reinforce the island vibe.

 Chefs Adam Greenberg and Christian Irabién

Chefs Adam Greenberg and Christian Irabién

The menu at Coconut Club will feature fresh raw fish in poke, crudos and ceviches and small plates of island-styled food. Greenberg wants to exemplify the simplicity of cooking that he has learned through his travels, and offer options like octopus, duck, bulgogi while also paying homage to Hawaiian classics as well.


Christian Irabien is a Mexican native who has led teams in renowned kitchens, receiving accolades for his Executive Chef role at Calavera in Oakland, Ca. and Jose Andrés’Oyamel in Washington, DC. Christian has been an integral part of the rising DC restaurant scene, collaborating with non-profits, restaurants, food banks and farms in the area as an active participant for better working conditions and wages for restaurant workers; while also strongly advocating for a better local food system. His restaurant, Amparo, will open later this fall at 3110 Mount Pleasant St NW in the historic Mount Pleasant neighborhood of D.C.

Adam Greenberg started his culinary career at the age of 18 and attended Johnson & Wales. After years honing his skills as a sous-chef, including at the Providence Oyster Bar under Tom Colicchio, learning how to cook the perfect steak at The Capital Grille and finally landing as Chef at Barcelona Wine Bar in West Hartford, CT in 2008, he moved up in the group, becoming Executive Chef at Barcelona Wine Bar on 14th Street in D.C. A four-time champion of Food Network’s Chopped, Greenberg is currently filming another soon to be announced television show and readying to open his restaurant, Coconut Club, in the Union Market “Blue Shed” in the fall.

Fredericksburg's Culinary Dynamic Duo

A journalist and a Top Chef keep the hits coming

By Susan Able, Photography by Jennifer Chase

 Beth Black, Joy Crump and Chuck, in front of their restaurant

Beth Black, Joy Crump and Chuck, in front of their restaurant

If you haven’t been to Fredericksburg, you really must go. And if you haven’t been lately, make a plan. Old favorites like the legendary Carl’s ice cream and the small town charm haven’t changed there. But Fredericksburg is getting a buzz, and the warm hearted queens of the culinary hive are Joy Crump and Beth Black, business partners at three of the “must-go-to” places in the ’burg: FoodE, Mercantile and 6 Bears and a Goat Brewery.

Beth and Joy, longtime friends who first met in an Atlanta newsroom, are business partners. Beth Black describes her food skills as, well, none. “Not a cook. I don’t cook. I never cook,” she says, but she keeps operations humming: “I put out the fires. Whether it is hiring staff or fixing a cooler, I try to keep the runway clear for Joy.” And Joy Crump smiles at that, she appreciates all that Beth does to let her focus on her craft, because nothing gives her more happiness than delivering food to hungry people.

Ten years ago Black and Crump were working at the same news station in Atlanta, Black as executive producer and Crump as a segment producer. The journey that started there has led to a historic restored bank building in Fredericksburg. There have been stops along the way to compete on “Top Chef,” to cook twice at the James Beard House in NYC and to win several other awards and accolades, like the 2015 VA Culinary Challenge.

I got to talk to these established restaurateurs over a fantastic lunch of a fried chicken sandwich, shrimp and grits, a black bean burger and pimento toast at FoodE, their first restaurant, which is now grown up from its smaller start. The space is high-ceilinged and welcoming, with a serene palette, tastefully furnished with a large portrait of Lincoln over the fireplace. President Lincoln is a bit of a touchstone as it is said he gave a speech in May of 1862 on the steps of the building where this restaurant now lives.

 A family meal at FoodE

A family meal at FoodE

Edible DC: So, Beth, how has leaving an established and successful career in journalism worked out for you?

Beth: Well, my future may have been more certain—in that type of media job you want to keep going to bigger and bigger markets, so I knew where I would be if I had stayed there. I wanted my career to be about me, so I was willing to leave to make that happen, even though I was giving up security. Making this jump has made me so much braver. My career in media taught me how to multi-task, be a good manager, be responsive and to know what people want to know. And those skills have definitely helped me. And I keep learning so much, except about cooking.


EDC: Joy, they say that one of the great human faults is being unable to predict our futures and how much life will change. Would you ever have predicted being here?

Joy: In my heart, I was meant to cook. Cooking brought me incredible joy, and I thought work was work. I didn’t know that you could do things that brought you incredible joy. It didn’t occur to me until I met Beth that I could marry what I loved to do with my work. She said that you should go to culinary school. It was the “aha” moment. I should go to culinary school. I had an early-morning job so I could do both, and that is exactly what I did.


EDC: And what about Fredericksburg?

Joy: Well that was Beth’s genius vision. She grew up in Manassas and always loved Fredericksburg and brought me here for a weekend when they were having this incredible community event, the Great Train Race.

Beth: The Great Train Race is a one-mile run for children downtown; I believe it is the largest youth race on the East Coast. We stood on a corner and watched the children run by, one little girl grabbed Joy’s hand and had her run along, and that was it. She fell in love with the town. Not to mention that it is so much less expensive than, say, DC to start a restaurant. And it is relatively affluent, with a stable fan base of locals who love to eat. And plenty of local farms. So, it’s been great.



EDC: It seems like things have gone really well—was there ever a moment when you wondered if you could get support for your elevated concept of a farm-to-table menu?

Beth: There were pioneers before us—La Petite Auberge, Blake and Abby Bethem who owned Bistro Bethem and now Vivify. One of my other skills from journalism is research, so when I looked at possible competition in the farm-to-table space, it came up empty. We knew there was a place in the market for our concept—very community and seasonal driven—but the local restaurant culture hadn’t embraced it yet.


EDC: How did you meet and greet the farmers who would supply your first restaurant and now Mercantile too?

Joy: Well, Beth has a super power called research from her background in journalism. So she compiled lists of local farms in the 22401 ZIP code (ours), then we eliminated certain people based on their growing practices and what we needed, which was protein, eggs, dairy and produce. We also worked with Milton’s Local, who is a farm goods broker.


EDC: Has the agricultural scene changed here since you started?

Joy: There are lots more small farms and more robust farmers markets. A lot of people grow stuff now, and people will reach out to us a lot more now than 10 years ago to be small suppliers. A lot of people have chickens. When we started FoodE, we wrote the names of our supplying farms on the menu to educate people about our philosophy and let them know who their local farmers were.

We are very seasonal here. And we get excited about each one as they come—you know, like looking forward to winter and braised meats and root vegetables. It’s easy to cheat and eat whatever you want 12 months of the year, but it is not the same. There is something so fun about working with ripe fruits. And the local ones taste better. That pencil thing, first-of-the-spring asparagus? When it first comes in we just walk around eating it raw. It just tastes like spring.


EDC: But what about tomatoes?

Joy: I just don’t serve them out of season. That’s all.



EDC: Your contributions to the culinary scene are credited for creating a buzz for the town. Do you think so? And what other ways has Fredericksburg changed?

Beth: Well, we see the interest in this old town exploding. People are really celebrating the river [the Rappahannock]; years ago the river as resource didn’t get much attention, but now they have developed all kinds of walking trails and things to do. When we walk Chuck, our dog, it is great to see everyone out running and playing along the riverbanks and that is all fairly recent. I feel like Fredericksburg is becoming one of those great places where you can live, work and play—and I feel like more and more folks in our community are dedicated to balancing their work lives.


EDC: What are some of your favorite things to do that we should share with our readers?

Beth: Well, a lot of people come here because they love history, they love the battlefields. But let me tell you about Bowman’s Distillery. It is amazing. The grounds are great, their marketing is great, their bourbon is great.

Joy: I do feel like Bowman’s borders on a best-kept secret, but it shouldn’t be. They routinely get voted the best bourbon at national award events. It’s very good and worth a visit.

Beth: Also, I love the canal path and the Washington Avenue monuments. And we are very big on doughnuts here. It is serious and there is a war going on with the old school, like Paul’s Bakery, and the new kids, like Sugar Shack and Duck Doughnuts. And Carl’s Ice Cream.

Joy: Oh, Carl’s. It is amazing. Carl’s is a drive-up ice cream stand from the ’40s and the kids still wear paper caps and shirts with high white dickies. Routinely there are lines around the block on the weekend of hundreds of people. You have to go.



EDC: Joy, you were gone six weeks to tape “Top Chef” in 2014. That’s intense and a lot of time for you to be gone. Did that kind of national publicity drive diners to you?

Joy: It absolutely gave us a bump in business, and from Richmond and DC. And a bump in criticism. But that’s cool, I’ll take it. It was a small price to pay to get our name out there and to have an experience like that.


EDC: Woman bosses in restaurants are way too rare. I have to ask: Is there a difference in restaurants run by women?

Beth: Yes. I think it starts with the hiring. We really look for the best, not necessarily in their skills but their attitude. We want everyone to be positive and enthusiastic—attitude is everything. We work backwards from that point. The people we tend to put in power here are people who bring that positive attitude every day. They are passionate.

Joy: When we remembered what we didn’t like about male-dominated industries and workforces, we wanted to take away what we didn’t like. It is critical for us to give our employees a voice and something they can buy into.

Beth: Joy and I both have very strong mothers who are amazing women and I think how we run our businesses is a reflection of what both of our mothers told us: Bring your best self to work every day.


EDC: I know you are planning a next project? Can you tell me about it?

Joy: There is a new food hall coming to Fredericksburg, Dominion Public Market, and I can’t say too much, but we’re going to be part of that.


EDC: You’ve both been interviewed a lot. What is something you’d like to say about your work or your life that you haven’t been asked?

Beth: Two things: One is that I’m thankful for our business partner, Jeremy Harrison. And second, I think it is important to stay humble and appreciative of what we do in a world where food can be expected to be so beautiful and precise. While we might feel that expectation in front of us, we pay our bills here with chicken salad, and I’m very proud of that.

Joy: Right. Sometimes you think, “Should I be someplace else?” But I’ve come full circle. The stuff that gets me excited is what also makes me happy—I’m so lucky to be cooking where we live for people we know. We have 70 employees and that is amazing, and I’m roasting local chickens that taste great. What can be better? Giving people jobs, feeding people, cooking the best stuff from farmers down the street. I’m really proud that we cook the food that people want to eat every day.           


Check out a notable recipe from the duo here