C’est Délicieux

Celebrated chefs bring a twist on authentic flavor to the RVA French Food Festival.

Several years ago, Christy Heinen, development director for the Little Sisters of the Poor assisted living facility, and other volunteers had a sudden idea for a fundraiser at a Christmas party. Richmond had one of the most rapid growing food scenes in the state, and yet it was missing an outlet for a key culinary culture—one that was especially meaningful to the Catholic organization, which was founded in France.

Enter the RVA French Food Festival.

In 2009, the organization teamed up with longtime volunteer, donor, and European Master Chef, Paul Ebling, who––after years of cooking in France, American fine dining establishments, and his own restaurant, La Petite France in Richmond––had retired and has helped the Sisters run the festival since.

Now entering its 11th year, the event has grown tremendously, with new ways to explore the French culinary scene right at home. In addition to Ebling’s traditional regional entrée specialties––like bouchee a la reine, veal, chicken, and mushroom served in a puff pastry with creamed veloute sauce and representing Lyon––ten local guest chefs from Richmond Hospitality Group restaurants will be bringing new flavors to the table.

“People get those classic favorites, but are excited to taste new, interesting dishes each year as well,” says Corinne Waldrop, special events and communications coordinator for the Little Sisters of the Poor. Take chef Benjamin Jackson of Little Saint, for instance; serving a vegan banh mi sandwich, Jackson’s dish will stand side-by-side with fried chicken banh mi with housemade kimchi, pickles, and spicy aioli by chef Mike Ledesma of Perch RVA. “The preparation of some Asian cuisine has roots in the French tradition, and with dishes like [these] we get a really unique twist on classic French culinary basics,” says Waldrop.

But for French foodies really craving a taste of the classics, there’s no shortage of authentic fare. “The food prepared for this festival has its roots in those rich culinary traditions of France,” says Waldrop. Chef Alex Enggist of Max’s on Broad will serve duck confit over Byrd Mill grits, while chef Faye Wootton of Bar Solita is whipping up a French street food favorite: jambon beurre, a French sandwich consisting of a fresh baguette with warm butter and ham. French wines, fresh bread, and everyone’s favorite dessert, crepes, will be available as well.

While the food is a highlight, attendees can also browse the vendors in the Parisian marketplace, listen to live music, and for the children, the festival offers activities and performances by Jonathan the Juggler.

To Waldrop, French culture and tradition is a large part of the Little Sisters, as all of the Sisters live in France during part of their training. Naturally, the fundraiser felt like a fit that not only aided their mission in helping the elderly, but connecting the public to their roots. “It is such a rich and vibrant culture, and truly the gold star standard when it comes to the culinary world, so it’s great that we can share a little of that with Richmonders,” she says.

The festival runs Friday, April 26 from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and Saturday, April 27 from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Little Sisters of the Poor facility. The event is free with a suggested $2 donation at the gate. RVAFrenchFoodFestival.com

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