August 20, 2010

Seasonally Inspired, Locally Acquired

Even Danny Meyer admits that it can take up to three to five years for a restaurant to find it's soul. If Danny Meyer says it's okay, then it's okay.

Zinc is about halfway through it's fourth year and I finally feel like we're finding our soul. And when I say "we" I mean, me. Thomas Leroy opted to leave the precarious world of restaurant ownership to focus on a secure future for his new family. This left me with a unique opportunity to make some changes without appearing to be constantly flip-flopping on our concept.

A dear regular asked me, soon after the sale of shares, to describe my vision for Zinc in five words or less. I knew what I didn't want to be: French or Tapas. But how would I describe to someone what kind of restaurant we are? "Not French"? American Bistro? Do we have to subscribe to a particular cuisine? It's good food, using French techniques and sensibilities but not necessarily French cuisine. Too long. So let's be vague but poignant at the same time: "Seasonally Inspired, Locally Acquired". Hey, if the glove fits....

So what has changed? We dropped the small plates, tapas thing and went back to full size coursed meals. Aesthetically, I'm trying to changing the lighting (expensive!) and trying to outfit the place with a vintage automotive motif to harken to building's original function:

I realize that oil is not the most popular theme these days but at least I'm not buying BP signs. I've got feelers out at three different antique stores for more signs but if anyone comes across some neat ones, holler.

I realize that I say "I" and "me " a lot but I am not ignorant of the fact that I would not be in this position without the staff at Zinc, past and present. I owe a debt of gratitude to Jarrett Freeman's contribution to the development of Zinc's soul. Without him, his enthusiasm, and his urgency, the movement towards farm to table at Zinc would have taken much longer. I wish him all the best back home in Poquoson. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Chef Justin Hershey. His food has elevated Zinc from benchwarmer status to starter material. To be sure, this is his menu, his food. It's clean, it's smart, it's delicious, and I couldn't be happier. Well, I could, if everybody else thought the same...

We didn't make the Best of C-Ville list this year but I'm not too torn up about it. While it would be nice to be recognized, I appreciate all the other buzz we've been getting. Somehow we've been mentioned in the Restaurantarama section for what seems like two or three months in a row for some reason or another. Other mentions have appeared in Edible Blue Ridge magazine, CBS 19 News (both thanks to Edible Blue Ridge editors Steve and Natalie Russell) and on the web on food blogs, MasToMillers. Can't beat free press! And I can't ignore all the love from Best of Cville Winner at Edible Cville via facebook.

Yes, I finally broke down and made a proper facebook page for Zinc to keep followers updated on our specials, upcoming news and events such as: being contacted by the Newsplex once again to do another farm to table story. Which reminds me of a plaque I came across at Colonial Williamsburg:

But enough about me. Here are some food pictures. Everybody likes food pictures:

Justin plates sweetbreads:

Sweetbreads with sauteed baby spinach, bacon, heirloom tomatoes:

Cook Christian Johnston:

Mix of heirloom tomatoes from cook Mike Goeke's garden and Zinc's garden:

May 19, 2010

Picture Time

Picture time!


Le fond de la cuisine


Foie Gras soaking in milk for torchon

Logistics, shmolistics

What's that buddhist adage? "You can't know true happiness until you know true suffering". Not to sound melodramatic but the way things have been going around here, I'm halfway expecting Nirvana. I'll even settle for Kurt reincarnate. That light at the end of the tunnel is probably just another train, or a spark of a shotgun shell at the other end of the barrel. Too soon? ...too soon. Seriously though, who'd've thunk that trying to put together a pig roast would be so much trouble?

So the time has come to take the pigs to slaughter. To recap, we've been raising two Duroc pigs for the restaurant since January. We've since added chickens which I will get to later. Doobie is well over 200lbs and Mr. Wiggle is just getting there. Wiggles is going to slaughter this coming Friday. Steve Russell from Edible Blue Ridge Magazine will be accompanying Jarrett to document the event. He'll be roasted and toasted on Monday May 24th at Montfair in Crozet. Originally, the plan was to have it out on the farm where they were raised with a few hundred of our closest friends and family but alas, the farm got sold. Jarrett was told that he could still hold the event but had to be off the property by the end of May. Then the date got pushed up from memorial day weekend to the week before. Then the landlord said there could only be 30 people with only five overnight guests. Then it could only be from 1-5pm, 2 beers max per person no overnight guests. Any attempt to deviate from these parameters will be met with arrest.

This week has been a scramble to find a venue for the event and to move Doobie, the chickens and the shiitake logs to a new location. Fortunately Jarrett's neighbor, Bob, has been so kind as to allow us to move the operation on his property for the time being. As for the venue, we thought about Blenheim Vineyards (too expensive), Kirk Hughes house (NIMBY), Local Food Hub farm ex Best of What's Around (too far). Finally settled on Montfair in Crozet. Beautiful setting, nice drive, indoor facilities, affordable, all around easy going people. Now that I said it, it doesn't sound as stressful as I made it out to be, but if you were me, you'd know that it was. If.

Anyway, if anyone wants to come give me a call at the restaurant.

Oh yeah, the restaurant. Zinc has been seeing more business thanks to some really positive reviews on Chowhound and SuzySays. Thank you so much for your support! We're gearing up for graduation weekend then it's more work work work. Pig roast on Monday May 24th, Nutrition + local food workshop/seminar at Clay Fitness with Laura Glassow on Wednesday May 26th, a bunch of wedding rehearsals, Doobie to slaughter, chickens ready, yeesh! A lot of work for Chef Justin as he will also be teaching a class at Charlottesville Cooking School in the next month.

Kudos to Revolutionary Soup and their press on getting a farm up and running. Soon enough, this will be the mainstream. Let's hope. You saw it here first kids.

March 27, 2010


The weather is beautiful, the patio is open. The menu will soon highlight and expand around the spring harvest. I plan on very diverse and light menu that will compliment the beauty of the season. At the moment, we are still waiting. Come out and join us tonight for good food, drink and conversation. I'll leave you with a video that inspires me beyond belief. Hope to see everyone tonight (that means you), Bye!

March 21, 2010

Suffering from "Chang-itis"? Put a little Zinc in your diet

Kudos to Peter Chang for all his recent press and explosive success. I wish Zinc could get some love from anything New York. Oh wait, we did:

"Awesome=right; we LOVED every bite!! RT @bistro_zinc After over a decade of reading Dornenburg and Page, finally got to feed them. Awesome!
via web"

From the Twitter page of James Beard Award winning authors and (more importantly) New York City residents, Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. It's not The New Yorker, but hey, baby steps. Pay no nevermind to the mention of Taste of China above.

In all seriousness though, it was a great honor to have them in Charlottesville talking up their two latest books The Flavor Bible and What to Drink With What You Eat. A greater honor was welcoming them as guests, along with author Michael Gelb, to Zinc for dinner. Everybody was nervous but they quickly put us at ease with their sincere congeniality and genuine down-to-earthness. My only regret is that I didn't challenge Michael Gelb to juggle our chef knives.

On the local front, thanks to Jed and Erin at Mas To Millers for their seal of approval.

Not all is rainbows and kittens though. I'm grateful for the unique and indispensable service he provides (thank you, thank you, thank you!) but it seems Cville Drink Specials (scroll ALL the way down) has issue with our blog:
A lot of people have expressed mock dismay at us naming the pigs. "How could you?" "Won't you get attached?". No one though, has likened eating pigs to eating children. I would not eat a child for Thanksgiving even it didn't have a name. Yes, pigs can be pets, and dogs can be meat, but we're not raising pigs to be pets nor dogs to be meat. We're raising pigs to be food, you know, like farmers.

As for Doobie and Mr. Wiggles, nothing new to report. They eat, they poop, they sleep. You know, like children.

On the food front here's what's been happening:

Confit Duck (aka Donnie) Leg Tartine, Pistachio Butter and Tarragon:

Wild Massachusettes Scallops (aka Meany, Miny, and Moe), Lemon Aioli, Braised Pistachios, Pea Shoots

Colorado Lamb (aka Shari), Asparagus, Fried Scallion, Coddled Egg

Duck (aka Howie) Breast, Janet's Garden Sunchokes, Arugula, Black Pepper Gastrique

Slow Roasted Oak Hill Farm Pork (aka Mrs. Wiggles) Shoulder
(not a menu item, chef's perks)

These were all specials last week. If you missed it, you missed out. Fear not, there is so much more in the brilliant minds of Justin Hershey and Jarrett Freeman to look forward to.

March 18, 2010

Tweet tooth

Thanks to the suggestions by many a savvy folk, we now "tweet".

Follow here if you please: Please.

The Virginia Festival of the Book is in town and today, I had the pleasure of meeting esteemed authors and James Beard Award winners Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. They talked about their indispensable book, The Flavor Bible, fielded questions and signed copies at the Happy Chef.

I got my copy signed. I invited them to eat at Zinc. I am atwitter.

March 14, 2010

The Royal We

So we've posted prolifically since inception. We've established a foundation of the story behind the pigs and the farm. We've talked about our plans for the green space on our patio. We've posted photos of our food. As to the quality of the photos, we're cooks, not photographers. (Actually, I am. but I traded my SLR for a bike. About as smart of a decision as to open a restaurant thinking it'd be 'fun') What we have yet to do is established who "We" are. To be clear, there are three voices on this blog. Those belonging to Jarrett Freeman, Justin Hershey and moi, Vu Nguyen. If you don't know us individually, you may know us collectively as the short lived boy band phenomenon, N'Zinc:

Photo courtesy of The Hook.

The band performs nightly at 420 West Main Street. When we're not on tour stupendifying the masses with such hits as "Oops, I Sousvided It Again" and "Pie, Pie, Pie" we like to kick around the kitchen with Big Bold Flavors in vigilant preparation for a Bobby Flay Throwdown.

Vital stats: Justin, when not cooking is most certainly thinking about cooking. He enjoys reading food text, watching food t.v., buying food gadgets, and thinking about how to blow your mind with food; Jarrett when not charcutering (not a real word) enjoys farming, herb, all things pig, and Dogfish 60 min.; Me, I eat, worry, rinse and repeat.

There is another fellow in the kitchen who deserves some credit, Monty. Lord, he tries. If we were the A-Team: Justin would be Hannibal because he's so serious, Jarrett would be Face because he appropriates useful items for the team and he's so pretty, Monty would be Murdock because he provides the comic relief and I'd be, yup,...The Van, because nobody, i repeat, NOBODY is B.A. Baracus but Mr. T.

Success in the restaurant industry never rests solely on the strength of the kitchen so I must pay the other half their due. In no particular order I want to thank my staff:
Misty Critzer, Diana Bendixen, Jaime Allison, Dan Baptist, Caitlin McAleer, Tanya Rutherford, Alissa Schoeny, Sera, Kara, Juan and Miguel. Of course there are so many more people to thank but this ain't the Oscars.

Speaking of the Oscars, free association leads me to Oscar Meyer which naturally leads me to pork which leads me to Doobie and Mr. Wiggles.

Mere piglets at 7 weeks, Mr. Wiggles and Doobie weighed 18 and 20 pounds respectively. Method used to weigh:

Length x Girth Squared divided by 400.

Since then, Doobie has gained weight much faster than Wiggles. Makes sense, he's a bully. They've got to be over 60 pounds by now with a ten pound difference between them. I haven't weighed them in awhile. I'll have an update later this week when I get a chance to go see them. Jarrett says I'll be surprised. Pshaw, I'd know my kids anywhere.

And on a side note, beef tongue:

Bon appetit.
Yours, Vu

March 3, 2010

Tout est bon dans le cochon!

The phrase sounds better in French (as most things do) but loosely translated, “Everything is good in the pig”. Even the British who are (in)famous for quirky although catchy food names, have a marketable phrase “You can eat everything but the oink”. The best the US pork industry could come up with was “Pork, the Other White Meat”. The beef industry was much more confident and convincing with “ Beef, It’s What’s For Dinner”. But all that was so last year (mad-cow, anyone?), and with the rising tide of pig-centric eateries making headlines in the New York Times, Gourmet Magazine (R.I.P), etc., it’s high time we appropriate their pitch and appropriately give pork it’s due,… “Pork, It’s What’s For Dinner”. And in the case of Zinc, it’s “Pork, It’s What’s for Dinner…About Four Months From Now”.

No, no, we haven’t misconstrued the “Slow-Food” movement. Rather we’ve taken it quite literally, as we’ve taken the “Farm to Table” concept quite literally. I won’t profess to know the origins of these nouveau-retro catch phrases, though I picture a white guy, ...on a bike,... at a farmers market, Portland.

I do think, though, they are noble endeavors albeit financially difficult from a restaurateur perspective. So when we are given a unique opportunity to actually actualize our best intentions, why not go for it? So we did. We bought a pair of piglets at 7 weeks old and are raising them in Barboursville with the intention of taking them to slaughter weight of around 250lbs. To be fair, Jarrett does all the work since they are on his farm. I actually had a whole Portland-esque self-congratulatory spiel about the nobility of our undertaking but it tasted too much like irony. So without further ado, allow me to introduce to you, Mr. Wiggles and Doobie:

Mr. Wiggles and Doobie are Durocs. Come June, they will be Pork, in all the manifestations that we can conjure up. Smoked bacon, pate de tete, seared trotters, pork rinds (bar menu), grilled pork loin, braised belly, fennel sausage, prosciutto, and whatever else Michael Ruhlman suggests in his compendium Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing.

Details to follow.

March 2, 2010

The Big Projects

First and foremost we must introduce the pigs. We will just call them Mr. W and Mr. D. I'll let Jarrett give you the low down on these guys, he lives with them. I can tell you they are Durocs, they are for the restaurant, you will be eating them sometime in the summer, they (the pigs) eat extremely well, and the experiences of being in their company thus far have been rich.

Second project, not yet in motion due to inclement weather, but within the week we will be hitting the pavement on, the patio garden. The space is great, the sun is so-so, the beds are only 2 feet deep, but I plan on a beautiful showing to accent the water fountain and the already interesting building. We have some herbs sprouting already in Jarrett's seed trays. We still have to decide on how much is going to be reserved for the kitchen garden and what exactly to grow.

Third, composting. We aquired a compost tumbler. We now have 1. A place to put our organic matter 2. A nice medium for the plants we want to grow and what we don't compost we feed to the pigs.


So this is the first post, and it kind of feels awkward. I'm not completely sure what should be said, or if your anticipating a mission statement. So we will just skip all that pressure and save it for the restaurant. This is Zinc's kitchen blog, I hope you can get down. Let's catch everyone up on what's been going on.