RICHMOND, Va. — News flash! Richmond has some great places to eat. Critics and food writers around the country agree — Richmond is a foodie town. The Huffington Post listed Richmond as one of the world’s 8 Under-the-Radar Foodie Cities and CNN called Richmond one of the 7 up-and-coming foodie destinations.
One dining experience I recently accepted was an invitation to attend Dinner in the Field. The creation of chef couple Paige Healy and Gregorio Spinzo, Dinner in the Field transports a group of diners to a simpler time when food did not travel far before reaching your table. While the farm to table restaurant concept is more common these days, Healy said it was her dining experiences in her husband’s native Italy that inspired them to bring the table to the farm concept back to Central Virginia.
When guests, about 30, arrived to my Dinner in the Field experience, we met near the barn at Victory Farms in eastern Henrico for aperitivo (appetizers) and Prosecco.
The aperitivo course consisted of a spiedini (sword) of fresh off the vine cherry tomatoes, hours-old mozzarella and basil. A second appetizer of parmigiano reggiano drizzled with Hanover honey offered the perfect combination of sweet and salty. Judging by the speed with which the aperitivo course disappeared, I feel confident in reporting the first course was a hit with the group.
Healy, a 28-year-old graduate of Trinity High School, took this time to welcome her guests to the farm.
After she explained her passion for this kind of dining, she led a brief farm tour to show off where some of the food used in the meal was grown. The tour ended at a long dinner table positioned under a string of lights that was set-up — appropriately enough — in the field.
The family-style meal consisted of lasagna al pesto, pollo arrosto (roasted chicken), patate con aglio prezzemolo (potatoes sautéed in olive oil and garlic). Tiramisu and a digestivo was served for dessert. The wines paired with the meal were a G.D. Vajra Roso Lange (red) and a Malvira Roero Arneis (white).
Following the meal, I asked Chef Paige six questions to give you a better idea of who she is and why she does what she does.
When did you decide to launch Dinner in the Field? How long did it take before the first event was scheduled?
Our first dinner was the third weekend of June 2014. Gregorio and I decided to leave Italy for the summer and come and live with my family (Paige’s father Kevin Healy owns the Boathouse restaurants) in the U.S. We brought his sister Noemi and his cousin Matteo with us. Gregorio and I were looking for something we could do as a family. We were looking for a way to bring a piece of Italy with us to the U.S.
We had about three weeks to plan our first Dinner in the Field. We ended up giving away about 90 percent of the tickets. No one understood what we wanted to do. After our first event, we were able to start showing people pictures, and once people saw the elegance of the ambiance mixed with the rustic nature of the farm, they really started to embrace the idea. People fell in love with the traditional Italian meals cooked with produce only hours off the vine. They started to understand the difference in taste, and understand the importance of using only the freshest most delicious ingredients in our Southern Italian meals.
Why does Richmond need an event like Dinner in the Field?
Dinner in the Field is a way to connect to our food. Richmond is a growing food scene and the people in the area appreciate not only great cooking, but great ingredients. Dinner in the Field combines the two. We work with local farms to harvest and serve all in the same day. That means the eggplant in our pasta alla norma, or the basil in our lasagna al pesto, are only hours off the vine.
Richmond also has a strong connection with community. When people arrive at Dinner in the Field, we become one big table of family and friends. Most dining experiences in Richmond put the customer at a distance from the cooking, the chef and the ingredients. When people arrive at Dinner in the Field, they are no longer separated from the origin of their meal, the opposite happens. They are transported to the birth place of their food. They are now standing in the field where it was just picked, and hosted by the chefs who are preparing their meal. At Dinner in the Field, the costumer becomes a part of the night, helping pick the basil to finish off their pasta dish and pouring wine for their neighbors.
What dishes have you prepared so far?
We change up the menu every weekend. We start with basil inspired dishes that work great in the early growing season and then mid summer our menu becomes tomato crazy as all the heirloom cherry tomatoes and full size varieties arrive and ripen with the strong summer sun. We are hoping to try a few things with artichokes this season, we will just have so see how they grow here in Virginia. At the end of the summer the greens are back in full swing and we are able to start making different fagiola with broccoli leaves cooked it terracotta.
I know before we arrived for dinner, we scoured social media to figure out what it would be like, what we should wear, etc. What goes through your mind when you see your guests for the evening approach the farm? Are you sizing them up? Do you do any social media research or Google them beforehand?
Hahaha! It sounds like you really think we have a lot of time on our hands! We make sure we learn if any of our guests have food allergies, but besides that, we really just anticipate that the Dinner in the Field diners are really super interesting fun-loving people. We have the best clientele. Only people who are excited about eating outside, who are up for any weather, and want a last minute menu that is determined by what is fresh that day, are the people who buy tickets for our event. Fortunately for us, Richmond is full of these adventurous diners and we have been so lucky for the open arm welcome we received from the Richmond community.
Other than the Boathouse — what are some of your favorite Richmond restaurants and dining experiences?
We always enjoy Juleps, Buckheads, Dutch & Company, and The Dog and Pig Show. Throughout the year we have had the opportunity to participate in Richmond events with these restaurants and all the chefs are great, inventive people, who make amazing food!
What are Paige and Gregorio eating on nights when they’re not preparing food for others?
Pizza! Ok, well not really. When we are in Italy we are most often cooking meals with Gregorio’s family. We start with big plates of bresaola rollatini with arugula and cherry tomatoes, drizzled with a balsamic reduction. After that we move on to family style pasta alla norma fresh off the stove (because pasta waits for no man) and our secondo (our entree) is usually fish. Most likely fresh swordfish grilled with parsley and lemon. Because we are minutes from the Mediterranean Sea, Gregorio and I eat a lot of fish. But on days in Southern Italy when we are not cooking, we are eating pizza! (They have the BEST pizza)
We have only been back in the U.S. for couple months, but we have already fallen away from the big lunches and late dinners of Europe. We are eating fresh and light this summer season. Arugula, blueberry, and goat cheese salads topped with grilled shrimp or roasted beat salads tossed with baby kale, lemon and avocado topped with seared scallops.
Tickets for Dinner in the Field July 17, 18 and 19 are sold out. Tickets are available for Dinner in the Field July 31 and August 2. More Dinner in the Field dates will be released later this summer. To receive Dinner in the Field email updates, click here. Tickets cost about $130 per diner.