by Meghan Scalea

View More: http://kellisphotography.pass.us/willowgrove

photo by Kellis Photography

When executive chef, Scott Myers, took the helm at Vintage Restaurant on the ground floor of the Inn at Willow Grove last summer, he wasted no time diving into the local farming community – and the fields surrounding the Inn – to learn how to source his menu. Having cooked in restaurants in New England and Montana, he’s used to starting over in new communities and treating the land and its local culture like he would a crash course in anthropology.

The restaurant is a fine dining destination for guests of the Inn as well as the community. As menu curator, Myers was challenged to produce options that would appeal to the the local Orange/Culpeper patrons but also be forward enough to attract foodies on weekend getaways from DC and New York.

“You want to be that definition place where you can put out really cool stuff,” Myers says. “You can still keep a really basic dish but use all Virginia ingredients so it’s got its own little thing going on. We did a play on ham and biscuits once, and everything was local, and it was fun.”

restaurantHam and biscuits sounds like a southern recipe, but Myers has learned by observing the local food scene and his guests that the central Virginia palate is not strictly southern. In his opinion, there is a southern country flair, but the food isn’t heavy southern cuisine. He learned this by meeting the local people, going out to restaurants – both good and bad ones. “What is it these people eat?” he asked himself. “What do they like? It’s mainly seeing and learning their culture as best you can. It’s great to immerse yourself in it.”

Myers first immersed himself in the local farm scene through the now defunct Fresh Link, a farm aggregator business that sourced seasonal foods from farmers to chefs across Virginia. When that business closed, he developed direct relationships with those farmers he’d sourced from and started attending any kind of farm expo he could find. He prefers these casual interactions with producers where they can learn from each other.

web chef's tableHe is a man of nature who bow hunts for venison and raises meat birds, guinea hens and hogs for his own use. He is known for taking his staff out on the Inn’s grounds to forage for local watercress, morels, mulberries, raspberries, wild strawberries and greens. And the Inn just put in a kitchen garden with raised beds and fresh herbs that Myers frequently pinches off to add to a dish.

Despite nature’s bounty that seems abundant out the kitchen door step, Myers spends a good deal of his free time picking up food orders from his local suppliers. It’s a task that often cuts into his personal time, but it’s also what he considers one of the best parts of running a locally sourced kitchen. “It’s not even about getting product. It’s about getting to see what [the farmers] are doing and them getting to see what you’re doing, meeting their families, having dinner with them. It’s the best part of it.”

That connection to the local fields is what Myers hopes his guests take away after a dining experience. “The greatest compliment someone could me is probably just that we take the time to go source it and find it, that they can see the difference in it as opposed to commodity stuff.”

He acknowledges that more and more people are interested in knowing where their food comes from and wanting to talk about it. Some of his farmer partners send customers to Vintage to taste their food prepared, and Myers reciprocates by encouraging his guests to go visit the producers, like Moving Meadows Farm where he gets his chicken, turkey and goat.

One recent, unexpected star menu item is the Virginia tofu, produced by Twin Oaks in Louisa. At the time of this interview, the tofu was marinated in a spicy coconut broth and served with shaved daikon and bean sprouts. “I groove on it a lot. It’s the perfect texture on the grill. I’ll save the scraps while I’m making it and come back to it.”

Featuring a Virginia tofu on the menu is not something diners will find just anywhere and sends a strong message about Myers’ curiosity for local foods and commitment to sourcing locally whenever possible. Cooking with local, seasonal ingredients is the only way for him, and he’s enjoying seeing the central Virginia community starting to prefer it, too.

When asked, he struggles to name his favorite Virginia foods to cook with. Wild edibles are nice in the spring, he says. Tomatoes are great, and the peaches and fruits are fantastic. Corn is great. Lately the cheeses have really been starting to take off. And the hogs – oh man, the hogs, he says as he leans back in his chair and licks his lips. There are too many to pick just one thing.

We can’t help but agree.