We’ve teamed up with Eftoo Farm in Bath County on a project to raise a foundational breed of chickens called Dorkings. This breed is special, not only because it is threatened with extinction through underuse but because it is renowned for its fine flavor. It’s been a favorite of the table going back to Roman times. The good folks of the Staunton Creative Community Fund have given us a grant to get our flock established, in hopes that we can be a model for other farm-restaurant collaborations. Check out the project here, with extra photos here.
We were honored to be featured in the new book, The Virginia Table, a celebration of Virginia foods, beverages, chefs, producers, and tastemakers produced by the talented team behind Our Local Commons. Chefs Matt & Becca were asked to create a dessert highlighting the best of Virginia grain. Their creation: a delicious Cornbread Pudding made with local Wade’s Mill cornmeal.
The Washingtonian magazine shone a spotlight on special small towns. The online version is here — but we’re partial to the print version, which featured this photo of Chef Becca’s apple pie.
Samantha Yates, W&L Class of 2015, created this 20-minute video about the Red Hen. Features interviews with staff, customers, and our supplier partners.
… and one of them is the Red Hen. Check out this lovely article about all there is to see and do in our town “… where new finesse meshes with longstanding traditions of hospitality.”
Chef Matt & Chef Becca join us from their former home in Easton, Maryland, where they were working at the award-winning Bartlett Pear Inn. They’re an impeccable team, bringing a deep love of food, farming, and hospitality to Lexington. (Check out their new menu by clicking here.)
Here they are, in their own words.
|Chef Matt Adams|
Developing a love of food
My first memory of farm work was on my parents’ farm, Malu Aina Farms, in Franklin County, Virginia. Whenever I got in trouble at school, my punishment at home was to take the wheelbarrow into the garden and pick up rocks and remove them. This is not where my love of farm-fresh products came from, as you can imagine, and in fact it may have even caused some disdain for farm work for a few years after.
|Chef Matt learning to appreciate the producers|
My first memory of family-oriented cooking was when my grandmother, Lois Adams, would cook great feasts for our whole extended family on Thanksgiving. She spent more time out of her seat, tending to everyone meals and making sure everyone had enough to eat, than she did enjoying her own food. Once again, I was young and didn’t realize how much effort goes into a dinner of that size, taking it all for granted.
It took me few more years to find that out. When I was 15, I stepped into a professional kitchen for the first time. I had a job as a dishwasher, and, as most dishwashers do, I quickly stepped up to a cook’s positions. It seemed very natural to me to be in the whirl of a kitchen during a busy dinner service. Over the next couple years, working in many different kitchens. I always tried to move up in the style of restaurants, progressing from casual to fine dining. One day, I realized I needed to go to culinary school to continue in the direction I wanted to go. I had previously dropped all my college classes to keep cooking but now I was ready to jump back in.
The beginnings of a cooking career
In 2006, I graduated with honors from Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, North Carolina. Once my schooling was done I headed back to Virginia to find a place to hone my newly learned skills and step into a management role. In 2008, I took my first Executive Chef position, opening the doors of a brand-new restaurant. The year that followed was the hardest and most educational experience of my career. In 2011, I repeated the experience, after being asked to help open the doors at another new restaurant. Once again I dug in and once again the wealth of education came flowing. It was not until this time in my life when I realized that I needed to change how and why I was cooking.
After cooking so many years with sub-standard products, I started realizing I want to work with better food. I was starting to understand how to cook the food properly, but now I wanted to start understand what food I should be cooking. I found that the benefits of local and sustainable ingredients far surpassed the standard food being produced. The flavor was so different than what I was used to. Beets and carrots tasted sweet, not bitter, and you could smell the dirt on them because they had come out of the ground that morning. The relationship built between myself and the farmers was so helpful in understand the labor that goes into farming that I wanted to make sure I treated the food with the same care that the farmers did themselves.
So after finding the keys to what I was cooking and how I was cooking it, I wanted to find the answer to why I was cooking. I am not a fifteen-year-old line cook anymore, loving the chaos of a kitchen. That high wouldn’t have lasted me all these years, I realized. There must be something ingrained in me from a very young age to keep me this passionate about my job. I think it came from those Thanksgiving dinners my grandmother prepared. And there were so many occasions where the kitchen table was at the center of a good memory.
For instance, the day I received my first speeding ticket, my mother, Kaye, prepared baked spaghetti to make me feel better. My father, Mike, made potato soup with dill on Sunday afternoons for the family. Becca Norris makes bratwurst in the summer time and spanakopita in the winter. I have come to realize that I wanted to cook the same way they all cook. In all of these examples, nobody was cooking for themselves, but cooking for other people. The care that goes into cooking when you do it for someone you love shines through in the food on the table.
Finding a deeper appreciation of hospitality and farm-fresh ingredients
Through many years of cooking in an industry that has a very different set of standards and practices than I do, I feel thankful to have come out on the other side knowing what I want to cook and why I want to cook it.
Finding the Red Hen and meeting the team who built it, I feel like I have met like-minded people who understand the real meaning of southern hospitality. I am excited to be here in Lexington, in my home state of Virginia, to continue learning and producing high-quality cuisine.
My goals are to find the best products and prepare them with the utmost respect. Products that have been cared for by local farmers, especially family-oriented farmers who work hard to produce the tastiest, freshest vegetables and humanely raised animals, deserve the best treatment. I strive to put the same amount of care into preparing the food as the farmers did growing it.–Matt Adams
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Chef Becca Norris
Hand-crafted, with love and science
|Chef Becca, a few years ago|
For a while my passion for cooking and baking took a back seat to studying. I graduated from St. Mary’s College of Maryland with a degree in Anthropology and Sociology, and then spent a small amount of time working at a desk in Washington, D.C. Soon I discovered that I had to work with my hands. So I dove into a carpentry career. For three years, I worked for a small company building and installing custom wine cellars while also owning and running a small handyma’am business.
|Chef Becca describing a dish|
Three years ago, I decided to get back to that original passion of bread baking and began working for a local bakery where I learned under skilled pastry chefs and even culinary professors. My final adventure, before making my way to Lexington, included working as both the pastry chef and a line cook at a fine dining establishment where I continued to see interesting commonalities between carpentry and the “building” of pastries and baked goods. I am driven by a need for work that is physical and hands-on, but that also involves a good dose of science to keep my curiosity brewing. –Becca Norris
Red Hen Chef Collin Donnelly voted Best Small Town Chef in America, 2012
Collin Donnelly, our Executive Chef from October 2010 until July of this year, was awarded Cooking Light’s prestigious Trailblazer Award for Best Small Town Chef. Read the full article here.
from the New York Post, a travel piece about eating one’s way from Charlottesville down through the Shenandoah Valley. Lexington, he writes, “sparkles and is an essential stop, particularly for lunch or dinner at The Red Hen,
Once in a while, a restaurant comes along where extraordinary preparation of locally produced food is the focus, and suddenly it becomes a favorite destination; its name is on everyone’s lips.
Review by the Staunton News Leader: “The Red Hen offers a chance to experience locally grown and harvested foods in a relaxed atmosphere with elegant overtones…Imagination and raw talent showcase the area’s best foods in a way that makes The Red Hen a special dining destination.”