by Hong-Nhu Mai, special to Edible DC
Dominated by an elevated open kitchen and wood, metal, and leather décor, Gypsy Soul is chef-owner RJ Cooper’s second restaurant and was, as he put it, two years in the making with the help and collaboration of his wife and children. It focuses on his “devotion to the American farmer through life at the table” and one of the main attractions of opening in Merrifield’s Mosaic District was the weekly farmers’ market nearby.
For his first collaborative event, the recent “From Farm to Fork” Dinner, Cooper “called up some old friends” to create a seven-course dinner which highlighted and illustrated the special relationship between farmers and chefs. The dinner supported Future Harvest CASA, a non-profit whose mission is “to provide education, networking, and advocacy to help build a sustainable Chesapeake foodshed.” A portion of all ticket sales went to Future Harvest, and a live auction took place towards the end of the evening, raising close to $7000 for the charity.
The reception gave guests the opportunity to walk up to the kitchen, converse with the chefs, sip on farm-inspired cocktails, and taste a variety of canapés. I enjoyed a cocktail which featured bourbon, Applewood-smoked nectarines, honey almond syrup, and fresh lemon. Almost any cocktail with fruit appeals to me, but smoking the nectarines intensified the flavor and caramelized the natural sugars into a delicious combination.
The atmosphere was lively and loud, and I spoke with many people passionate about local food, sustainability, and farmer-consumer relationships as we ate each course. There was smoked duck leg on top of rye congee (a type of rice porridge), topped with sweet and crunchy Asian pear slices, while yam leaves and shiso made a nice contrast with the thick congee.
A croquette of pig’s head meat was fried “Nashville style” in an homage to Southern fried chicken. Served with pickled cucumber and radish, the spicy breadcrumb coating and savory meat played well with the vegetables. The cut of meat was one unfamiliar to many diners but made completely accessible through a common cooking technique.
A personal favorite was Chef Katsuya Fukushima’s first course of Maryland blue crab salad, corn poached in a grilled corn stock, white-soy corn dashi, fire-blistered shishito pepper and sea greens — the salty, creamy crab was cut by the bright crunch of fresh corn, weaving the textural elements together into a fresh cohesive dish. I was seriously tempted to lick the plate clean, but I settled for licking my spoon clean instead.
Gypsy Soul: 8296 Glass Alley, Merrifield, VA 22031 www.gypsysoul-va.com