CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WV News) — For nearly 100 people, Sunday evening provided a novel event designed to showcase locally sourced food, prepared in high-quality fashion.
The West Virginia Cooks’ Community Heritage Dinner took place at Jackson Square, featuring meals prepared by chefs Anne Hart, Marion Ohlinger of Hill and Hollow of Morgantown, Matt Welsch of Vagabound restaurant in Wheeling and Michael Brown of Hart Kitchen Eatery of Clarksburg. Also in attendance serving food were two culinary arts instructors from Pierpont Community & Technical College and one of their culinary students.
West Virginia Cooks is a group of chefs from throughout the state who want to educate as many people as possible about the vitality and quality of locally grown produce and locally sourced meat and fowl.
The hope was not just to educate diners but for the chefs to show their pride in heritage recipes and foods that help the local food scene. A single long row of tables, referred to as a community table, was set up in the Jackson Square pavilion on Traders Alley.
Chef Welsch is the founder of the West Virginia Cooks group.
“It’s high time that West Virginia received its fair share of attention in conversations about the growing food industry in the United States,” he said.
“When you study the history of food in Appalachia, it mirrors the story of Appalachia itself. It’s rugged food made by rugged people harvested from a rugged landscape. Because we are landlocked by the mountains our culinary tradition is one that is tied to what the land would produce and the game it would support.”
Anne Hart of Hart Kitchen Eatery partnered with several chefs to host an event that highlights local farmers and chefs in an effort to support local communities and ensure sustainability for small businesses involved in the industry.
“It all started with WV Cooks organization, which put all of this together with us. We want to highlight local producers and growers and support them as well. Our next event we will do cooking demos for people as well. We take them through the process of how to prepare, cook and serve a meal,” Hart said.
Marion Ohlinger is the owner of Hill and Hollow, which is a free range kitchen in Morgantown.
“We have been an Appalachian restaurant for the past 15 years and it’s kind of stunning the number of people from here who don’t really know our food history before the 1950s,” Ohlinger said.
He wants to help reintroduce people to their culinary roots and know that they can support local producers.
“The basic idea is to keep our dollars here in West Virginia. Give them to your local farmer, your local brewery, your local restaurant and cook for yourself,” Ohlinger said, stressing to do it, “for your local scene, because we need each other.”
Pierpont Community & Technical College had three volunteers on hand — chefs Natalie Feltz and Allison McCue along with culinary arts student Tabitha Poling-Loureiro. Poling-Loureiro is starting this fall at Pierpont and is excited about starting her educational pursuit.
Chef Feltz was excited to be a part of the community dinner and to work with a recently retired peer from Pierpont who was hand to fill in any needs at the event.
“Chef Anne asked us to come out for this great event and Chef McCue and I said we can make this work,” she said with a laugh.
“I’m looking forward to mingling with people and acting like it’s semi-normal times and we can be together and not be afraid too much of COVID,” Feltz said.
Pierpont Culinary Arts prepared two dishes. The first was an appetizer called Grain Salad that included Barley, parmesan cous-cous and tri-color quinoa with leman white balsamic vinaigrette sourced from Sue Brumage in Fairmont. The second was a dessert of Lavender panna cotta with mixed berry mousse that was sourced from Richardson Farms, also in Fairmont.
Sarah Ziegler and Eric Ziegler were on hand for the dinner. Sarah is from Clarksburg while her husband is from upstate New York. They met at West Virginia Wesleyan, fell in love, got married, and now are raising their children in Clarksburg.
“We heard there was going to be good food and we want to support the local community,” Eric Ziegler said.
“We need this kind of event in town and support it because a lot of times you only hear about the bad things happening. It’s really nice to have a positive event and it will bring some culture and fun to our space,” Sarah Ziegler said.