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Charlottesville Needs a Signature Dish

Dear Charlottesville,

We need your help.

Our region’s great culinary minds are in search of Charlottesville’s signature dish. Craig Hartman is the acclaimed chef-owner of The BBQ Exchange, who founded the restaurant at Clifton Inn, and has studied Virginia cuisine for decades. Dr. Leni Sorensen is the retired African American Research Historian at Monticello, who still lectures and writes on food history, and may know as much about our region’s food as anyone alive. And, Ira Wallace is the co-owner of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange who also serves on the boards of the Organic Seed Alliance, the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, and the Virginia Association for Biological Farming. As a longtime Charlottesville food writer and consumer, my role is simply to help these great minds distill their thoughts as we seek to discover Charlottesville’s definitive dish.

From the time that our nation’s first epicurean feasted at Monticello, the Charlottesville area has been known for its food. But, among all that our region has to offer, what dish distinguishes us most?

Many of our resources are written: menus, clippings, history books, and cookbooks by influential Virginians like Mary Randolph and Edna Lewis. But, our greatest resource is you: the people of the Charlottesville area. We need the input of chefs, farmers, historians, home cooks, artisans, and other lovers of food. We want your ideas for the signature dish and for what other sources to consider.

What are we looking for? First, the dish will be one that, both historically and today, our area’s residents love to cook and eat. Second, to the extent possible, it should draw on ingredients from our rich bounty of produce. What products thrive so well here that they have become iconic parts of our cuisine? And third, to have sustained our interest for so long, the dish will be one that has inspired variations. In New Orleans, there are said to be as many recipes for gumbo as there are people. Charleston’s shrimp n’ grits likewise is a base for creativity. And, Chicago’s deep dish pizzas vary from one to the next. Everyone has their favorite.

So please, join us in our search for Charlottesville’s signature dish. We cannot do it without you.

Gratefully,

Simon Davidson The Charlottesville 29

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