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I spent the first five years of my life on the wrong side of the tracks in Washington, D.C. until my family moved to southern Maryland: dirt roads, small farms, and general stores. It’s changed so much since then. I got my first job cooking for Mister H hamburgers. I knocked on his screen door and he asked me: “What can you do? Can you make a minestrone soup?” He was old guard--a crazed restaurant guy. The next summer, at the age of 15, I went back and he told me I had to work in a better place. So a friend introduced me to a restaurant with tableclothes in Virginia. And before long, after graduating with a degree in theatre from Catholic University, I gravitated towards the people and culture associated with restaurants. It was as if the rest of the world, in comparison, was black and white and boring.Guests recharge me, oddly enough. All it takes is one person to make some very astute and touching comment and I’m reenergized completely. Simply the acknowledgement that I’m doing what I do out of love, that it’s not a financial transaction. One woman said to me, “I hope this won’t offend, but the minute you walk through your door, you realize that none of this has anything to do with money.”
For centuries, Virginia has been famous for its hams. In the old days, every family kept a few pigs and had their own special way of preparing and curing the ham. The pigs were often fattened on peanuts, which gave their meat a rich, distinctive flavor. My hams have been prepared by the same butcher in Culpeper for 35 years. Originally, they were very salty and aged for several years, but we have refined the process and today our ham is no older than three months. It resembles Italian prosciutto.
I serve the ham with grilled Black Mission figs and a lime cream, or with crispy fried foie gras on a bed of polenta and blueberries. Or to accompany veal medallions along with morel mushroom fettuccine.