Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Chef Rhonda Mixes It Up at the VCCA
For the VCCA's new chef, Rhonda Scovill, "The First Impression" is one of her most important ingredients.
“To me, every night is a catered event,” says Rhonda, who, with a staff of four kitchen assistants, serves about 22 Fellows in residence at a time. “It’s not just a meal. It’s not just dinner.”
Enter exotic gourds and squash, ruddy pomegranates, glistening star fruit, tangy salad dressings (her signature), steaming beef stew served in a hollowed out pumpkin shell and an authentic Greek meal.
“I’m all about what the food looks like, says Rhonda, who is trained as a catering chef. “Pre-packaged and process foods do not look good, and don’t taste good either. In this time of fuel consumption and global warming I am so much more comfortable with my food not traveling very far,” she says. “Food that has spent the least amount of time getting into my kitchen looks and tastes the best.”
This spring then, in the interest of this low-food-miles philosophy, Rhonda will plant an herb garden, rosemary bushes and edible flowers on the VCCA grounds, and has already begun working with resident staff to pull off a comprehensive vegetable garden.
In the meantime, Rhonda continues her quest for the best local suppliers. In and out of her kitchen recently: a farmer delivering a bushel of turnips. Apples from an orchard in a neighboring county. Grits and cornmeal ground at the Amherst Mill just down the road. Sorghum molasses made during a neighborhood fall festival.
One evening shortly after her arrival in October, Rhonda stepped out of the kitchen and into the dining room--as she does regularly--to formally address the Fellows. “We are fortunate to be right in the heart of apple country,” she began, holding up a golden specimen. “See this apple,” she boasted, “it’s been touched by two people, me and the picker. It’s one of the best apples you will ever eat.”
A Virginian, Rhonda’s pride is obvious, and contagious. She cut her teeth at some of the area’s most prestigious restaurants, including the C&O Restaurant, one of Charlottesville's oldest fine dining establishments, which she managed for 13 years, and remains a chef there for special events. She was executive chef at 20 South Catering for four years and most recently established the kitchen at a new golf club.
But it is at the VCCA that she has found a place for her own creative expression. The VCCA, she says, is a “kindred sprit kind of place.”