On Oct. 8, four chefs from Virginia Beach will prepare a meal in honor of the late James Hemings for Southern Grit Magazine’s Stirring the Pot dinner series. The dinner will be hosted by Southern Grit Magazine, the James Hemings Foundation and the Culinary Institute of Virginia at Andrea’s La Bella in Ghent in Norfolk from 6–9 p.m.
Virginia Beach chefs Alvin Williams of Cobalt Grille, David Hannah of Stoley’s, Alvin Hyman of Sweetwater Cuisine and Al Devane of Carolina Son BBQ are four of six African-American chefs preparing the four main courses and two appetizers that will celebrate culture and pay homage to 18th-century culinary pioneer, James Hemings, on Sunday evening. Chefs Frank Crump of GFC Catering in Richmond and Keith Wallace of Four Seasons Hotel and Resort in Miami, Fla. will also assist in the dinner’s preparation.
Hemings was an African-American slave and chef valet to Thomas Jefferson during the late 18th century. After receiving culinary training in Paris, Hemings returned to the states and introduced his signature blend of Virginian-French cuisine. Americans were first introduced to delectable dishes like crème brûlée, ice cream, European-style macaroni and cheese and French fries through Hemings. All six chefs will honor Hemings’ legacy by creating dishes inspired by his signature recipes.
Heming’s Boeuf à la Mode, macaroni pie, madeleine cornbread, stuffed capon breast, pan seared rock fish and snow eggs have been selected as the dishes that will be recreated in the kitchen of Andrea’s La Bella. All six chefs are permitted to adapt Hemings’ signature recipes so that they, too, can demonstrate their culinary expertise.
Chef Alvin Williams and Chef David Hannah shared with us their excitement about cooking for a James Hemings dinner. They are both eager to share their passion for cooking with the Coastal Virginia community as well as commemorate Hemings’ contribution to America’s food scene. “James Hemings is the father of American cuisine,” says Hannah, “and his story has been in the shadows for too long. I am truly honored to be featured in a dinner that shares his story and honors his legacy the way it should be done.”
Hannah’s acknowledgement of Hemings’ overlooked talent is what first inspired Southern Grit Magazine to begin their Stirring the Pot series. The series seeks to highlight historic culinary figures whose talents and influence on American gastronomy have remained uncelebrated. Not only will Sunday’s dinner celebrate Hemings, but it will showcase the mastery of six notable African-American chefs as well.
“It is good that stories like Hemings’ are being brought to light and that such history is not being forgotten,” remarks Williams. Hannah also adds that for African-American chefs, Hemings is a culinary icon. “The same way other cultures have Julia Child or James Beard, we have James Hemings.”
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