Step behind the scenes with us to learn what it takes to create one of Richmond's biggest food events, Fire, Flour & Fork. (Photo by Wyatt Ramsey)
Maureen Egan has a lot of spreadsheets. She has color-coded Google Docs and legal pads and countless emails about travel logistics, class schedules, sponsors, comps, dinners. And then there are the meetings.
Her job as a co-founder and organizer of Fire, Flour & Fork — the massive Richmond food event that’s something between a festival and a symposium — keeps her on her toes in tandem with her business partner, Susan Winiecki. (Winiecki is this magazine’s associate publisher and editorial director, though she had no involvement in my writing this article.)
This year, between Oct. 28 and Nov. 1, is FFF's second annual event. The concept — an array of educational courses, collaborations and dinners focused on cooking, sustainability and food history — was originally pitched during a Richmond Times-Dispatch Public Square tourism event. It didn’t go over so well at first. “People thought we were crazy because we were talking about it in April 2013 and I was saying, ‘It’s coming in fall of 2014.’ And it took every bit of that,” Egan says, laughing.
Funded through sponsors and income from Real Richmond Food Tours (a company the duo also co-founded), the final product was one whirlwind of a long October weekend. It included ticketed dinners, visiting chefs, cooking demos, events and meals showcasing the best of Richmond’s culinary talent, as well as seminars from food historians, farmers and documentarians. The total turnout was around 1,800, but Egan expects roughly 3,200 guests at this year’s event. And as soon as the first event ended, the pair began planning the second.
Between November and December, Egan and Winiecki reached out to local and national chefs. In February, they asked chefs when and what or with whom they’d like to demo or teach. Summer and early fall have been spent nailing down the details. As of late August, close to 30 classes and demos, and around 21 dinners, were lined up. Fifteen out-of-town chefs will have to be flown in and accommodated in one spreadsheet or another. Among them is James Beard finalist Justin Carlisle, chef at Milwaukee’s Ardent restaurant.
The Frequent Flyer
It isn’t easy lugging three thermal circulators, six 4-inch fish tubs, two large coolers, chef coats, towels and aprons onto a flight from Wisconsin to Richmond, but that’s exactly what Carlisle did for last year’s dinner, and he’s doing it again this month.
“I bring salt, pepper, and vac-pack everything: butter, herbs, however many portions of beef,” he says. “Everything is laid out, cryovaced, labeled per dish, with a spreadsheet of each dish, each ingredient, each quantity - how many of each - is packed with every cooler.”
From the minute Egan and Winiecki call him, he begins planning. This year, he’s cooking two ticketed dinners, plus a ramen pop-up. For Carlisle, being a visiting chef isn’t just a gig; it’s an opportunity to share whatever it is that you do, wherever it may be: “You have to go to events and represent yourself exactly like you would with customers coming to the restaurant.”
The Home Team
David Shannon isn’t getting on a flight, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been planning his dinner for eight months. The L’possibilities at L’opossum event sold out within five minutes, and it’s not surprising: Shannon’s ode to his mentor, Patrick O’Connell, the famed chef at The Inn at Little Washington, is set to be a whimsical celebration of both his career and the eight years Shannon spent with O’Connell at The Inn’s kitchen. O’Connell, of course, will attend. No pressure.
Shannon began dreaming of the concept after Egan and Winiecki approached him in February. When he learned that O’Connell and The Inn’s former sous chef, Bonnie Moore, could join him, he launched into designing, testing and perfecting the menu — from the right china and each course’s musical playlist to the menu art and gift bags for each guest. Even though it’s a months-in-the-making tribute meal and a thank-you to one of the country’s best contemporary chefs, Shannon says he isn’t nervous.
“One thing [O’Connell] told me was, ‘If it’s not fun, what’s the point?’ So you have to enjoy doing it.”
[Correction: This piece originally stated that Fire, Flour & Fork was pitched to the Richmond Regional Tourism board, when in fact the event was pitched at a Richmond Times-Dispatch Public Square event. The piece has been updated online and a correction will run in the upcoming December issue of Richmond magazine.]