Side Hustle

7 Virginia chefs give us 9 tasty reasons to banish boxed mixes from weekday dinners.

Pumpkin spaetzle with roasted leeks, shaved pumpkin, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Photography by Fred + Elliott

Autumn harvests bring some of the best ingredients to the table—sweet potatoes and hearty squashes, cruciferous vegetables, and dark leafy greens. It’s a time of transition, with the last remnants of summer fading into a warm, pumpkin-spiced fall. We asked some of Virginia’s best chefs for their go-to side dishes—the ones that are as appropriate with a weekday dinner as on a holiday table. They shared updated standards like crispy Brussels sprouts by Kevin Roberts, chef and owner of Perly’s Restaurant and Delicatessen, and the simple-yet-sophisticated cauliflower grenobloise from Sebastien Rondier of Brabo Brasserie. (Don’t let the word “grenobloise” give you pause; it’s just a sauce made of parsley, capers, and lemon that originated in Grenoble, France.)

Aaron Deal of The River and Rail presents an easy recipe for craveable, near-snacky beets steeped with aromatic herbs and garlic. Laura Fonner of Duner’s uses shishito peppers in a dish that’s bright and zippy with fresh lime and feta. She also makes an excellent case for including spaetzle in your weeknight routine: It’s easier than you might think and way more fun. Finally, we banish boxed potatoes by offering easy and delicious sweet potatoes and butternut squash paired with bourbon and rum, respectively, in two dishes that come together with a little oven time that lets you focus on the rest of dinner. 

All of these recipes are intended as side dishes for two to four people, but they could easily be the star of their own show, with a simple kale salad on the side.

Pumpkin Spaetzle with roasted leeks, shaved pumpkin, and Parmigiano-Reggiano

Laura Fonner of Duner’s, Charlottesville

Laura Fonner of Duner’s, Charlottesville

1 ½ teaspoons salt, plus additional for seasoning

½ pie pumpkin, skinned, deseeded, and sliced thin

2 cups leeks, soaked, cleaned, and chopped

1 ½ tablespoons chopped garlic

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided


6 large eggs

1 cup pumpkin purée, canned or fresh

2 pinches ground nutmeg

2-3 cups all purpose flour

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

½ tablespoon chopped fresh sage

¼ cup shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bring a medium-sized pot of salted water to a boil. Mix together the sliced fresh pumpkin, leeks, garlic, and 1 tablespoon of the butter. Season with salt and pepper, and roast in the oven on a sheet pan until tender, roughly 20 minutes. To make the spaetzle, whisk together eggs, pumpkin purée, nutmeg, and 1 ½ teaspoons salt in a bowl. Slowly whisk in flour until the consistency is about twice as thick as pancake batter. If you don’t have a spaetzle cutter, you can use a kitchen colander and a ladle. Hold the colander over the boiling water and pour about half the batter into it. Move the ladle in a circular motion to press the batter through the holes of the colander until it drips into the boiling water. Boil 1 to 2 minutes or until the spaetzle batter has risen to the surface and formed noodles. Scoop out with a strainer, set aside, and cook the remaining batter. Once you have cooked all of the spaetzle, heat a large, nonstick sauté pan on medium-high. Once heated, add the remaining butter and spaetzle, and sauté until browned. Add the roasted vegetables and fresh herbs to the pan and sauté until incorporated. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with Parmigiano-Reggiano to serve. 

Blistered Shishito Peppers with feta, fresh lime, chipotle honey, and sea salt

Laura Fonner of Duner’s, Charlottesville

Blistered shishito peppers with feta, fresh lime, chipotle honey, and sea salt.

6 tablespoons raw or local honey

1 ½ tablespoons adobo from canned chipotles 

2 pounds shishito peppers

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

Maldon sea salt

3 limes, cut in half

1 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine honey and chipotle adobo, and set aside. (You’ll have more than you need for this recipe, but save it to use on fried chicken.) Toss shishito peppers with olive oil, spread on a baking sheet, and sprinkle with two large pinches of sea salt. Bake in the oven until the skin blisters on the peppers and they become tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish. Top the peppers with squeezed lime juice, crumbled feta, a drizzle of chipotle honey, and a sprinkle of sea salt.

A self-taught chef who is passionate about food, Laura Fonner has been working in kitchens since she was 14. She says the colors, smells, and emotions of life all tie into her dishes. After 16 years at Duner’s, she is in the process of taking ownership of the restaurant.

Farro verde risotto with swiss chard and marinated roasted beets.

Farro Verde Risotto with Swiss chard

Aaron Deal of The River and Rail, Roanoke

5 cups chicken or vegetable stock

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 small yellow onion, diced

red chili flakes

1 large bunch Swiss chard, roughly chopped

1 ½ cup pearled farro verde

sea salt


Parmesan cheese

Bring the stock to a simmer in a saucepan, then reduce the heat to very low to keep warm. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the garlic, onion, and a small pinch of chili flakes, cooking until fragrant but not browned. Add the Swiss chard and stir, cooking until it begins to wilt. Add ½ cup of the warm stock and continue to cook until Swiss chard is tender and the stock is reduced. Add the remaining olive oil and stir in the farro. Add a little hot stock to cover and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently. When reduced, add more stock to cover and continue to cook, adding more stock as it is absorbed. Continue this process until the farro is tender, using only as much stock is required. Season with salt and pepper, top with generous amounts of cheese, and serve immediately.

Marinated Roasted Beets

Aaron Deal of The River and Rail, Roanoke

Aaron Deal of The River and Rail, Roanoke

1 pound red, Chiogga, or gold beets

1 tablespoon vegetable oil 


3 sprigs thyme

1 sprig rosemary

1 garlic bulb, halved

1 shallot, minced

3 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Wash beets and pat dry. Place the cleaned beets in a small baking dish, toss them with the vegetable oil, and season with salt. Add the herb sprigs and garlic bulb to the dish, along with 1/3 cup water. Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil, and roast in the oven until the beets can be pierced with a paring knife, a minimum of 45 minutes and up to an hour. Remove from oven, remove foil, and allow to cool to room temperature. In a small bowl, combine the shallot, vinegar, olive oil, and a pinch of salt. Set aside to marinate. While shallots marinate, peel the room-temperature beets and cut them into discs or wedges. In a mixing bowl, combine beets and shallot mixture, seasoning with salt and pepper as desired. 

Aaron Deal trained at Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, South Carolina, and has won many accolades since, including a James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef nomination. He has appeared on the CBS Early Show and The Food Network. At The River and Rail, Deal creates regional cuisine inspired by the Virginia countryside.

Roasted cauliflower grenobloise

Roasted Cauliflower Grenobloise

Sebastien Rondier of Brabo Brasserie, Alexandria

2 lemons


1 pound cauliflower florets

olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons capers

½ bunch flat-leaf parsley, washed and roughly chopped

cracked black pepper

Sebastien Rondier of Brabo Brasserie, Alexandria

Using a paring knife, segment the lemons and set aside in a small bowl. Bring a pot of water to a boil, add a pinch of salt, and blanch the cauliflower for 5 to 7 minutes; strain and set aside. Heat a large pan with olive oil and sauté the cauliflower until it caramelizes. Add the butter and let it brown slowly for about 5 minutes over medium-low heat. To finish, add the lemon segments, capers, chopped parsley, pepper, and salt. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. 

Note: The dish pairs very well as a side for fish or on its own with a spoonful of Greek yogurt.

A native of southwest France, Sebastien Rondier was classically trained in French cuisine at CFA Hotellerie DAX and has worked in many acclaimed kitchens. You might also recognize him from the Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen competition. He has been at Brabo since 2017.

Roasted butternut squash casserole with walnuts, bacon, and bourbon.

Roasted Butternut Squash Casserole with walnuts, bacon, and bourbon

Stephen Gilbert of Morgan’s, Abingdon

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and large diced

kosher salt

coarse ground pepper

½ pound unsalted butter 

1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

½ pound bacon, diced (preferably sugar cured and applewood smoked)

5 tablespoons bourbon

½ ounce 100 percent maple syrup

2 sprigs fresh sage

4 ounces fontina cheese, shredded

Stephen Gilbert of Morgan’s, Abingdon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil squash, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Place on a sheet pan and roast for 12 to 15 minutes or until the squash is tender and begins to brown slightly. Remove from oven and set aside. Melt the butter in a heavy pan over medium heat and allow it to brown slowly. When the butter begins to foam, add the walnuts and continue to cook until the butter and walnuts are well browned. Remove to a paper towel, reserving 2 tablespoons of butter in the pan. Add the diced bacon to the pan and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Carefully add the bourbon and allow the alcohol to evaporate. Add the maple syrup, cook to thicken slightly, and add half of the sage. In a bowl, combine the squash and bacon mixture, then add the walnuts and fontina cheese, and stir to incorporate. Place in a casserole dish and bake for 10 minutes or until heated through and squash is tender. Garnish with remaining sage.

Stephen Gilbert, a native of Abingdon, graduated from Southeast Culinary Institute in Bristol and began a career in fine dining in southwest Virginia. As a chef, he focuses on working with local farmers to develop unique ways to use and market locally produced ingredients.

Crispy Brussels sprouts with labneh and pomegranate molasses.

Crispy Brussels Sprouts with labneh and pomegranate molasses

Kevin Roberts of Perly’s Restaurant and Delicatessen, Richmond

frying oil

1 cup labneh

zest of 1 lemon

zest of ½ orange

1 tablespoon juice each from lemon and orange

2-3 pounds Brussels sprouts, cleaned, dried, bottoms trimmed, and bisected

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

¼ cup pomegranate arils

1 cup thinly sliced green onions

2 teaspoons Tajín seasoning

½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt

Kevin Roberts of Perly’s Restaurant and Delicatessen, Richmond

Preheat a half-gallon pot of frying oil to 375 degrees. Combine the next four ingredients and set aside. When the fryer oil is ready, fry the Brussels sprouts in batches. Working quickly and gently, move them around in the fryer oil; as soon as you see crisped tips and edges, use a mesh strainer, spider, or slotted spoon to pull them out, and allow them to drain on a paper towel. The result should be a sprout that is both green and lightly browned; however, you should also serve any fully crisped leaves that have fallen off.

To serve, spread labneh mixture along the bottom of a wide bowl or platter using the back of a spoon. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of pomegranate molasses over the labneh and top with the Brussels sprouts. Drizzle with additional pomegranate molasses to taste (the molasses is quite tart), up to 1 tablespoon, and sprinkle with the pomegranate arils. Garnish with a sprinkling of Tajín seasoning and kosher salt. 

While attending VCU, Roanoke native Kevin Roberts supported himself by working in many of Richmond’s restaurants. Known for his first restaurant, The Black Sheep, Roberts and his wife, Rachelle, working with Johnny Giavos of Stella’s, opened Perly’s in 2014.

Whipped sweet potatoes with brown sugar rum glaze.

Whipped Sweet Potatoes with brown sugar rum glaze

Antwon Brinson of Culinary Concepts AB, Charlottesville

4 small to medium-sized sweet potatoes (Brinson uses purple Okinawan potatoes)

1 cup coconut milk

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup light brown sugar

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ teaspoon salt


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat with pan spray. Add the sweet potatoes, and cook for 45 minutes or until tender. Remove and allow to cool slightly, then remove skins and dice. In a sauté pan, stir together the coconut milk, butter, brown sugar, nutmeg, and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and continue to simmer for 10 minutes. Using a mixer with a whisk attachment, add the sweet potato and half of the liquid, and mix on low. Slowly add more liquid until a light, whipped consistency is achieved; you may not need all of the liquid. Salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.

For the rum glaze:

2 cups light brown sugar

1 cup unsalted butter 

½ cup dark rum

1 ¼ cups heavy cream

¼ cup maple syrup

toasted coconut flakes

Antwon Brinson of Culinary Concepts AB, Charlottesville

In a saucepan over low to medium heat, cook brown sugar and butter until it bubbles slightly; do not let the sugar get too dark. Remove from heat. Slowly whisk in the rum and heavy cream. Return to the heat, bring to a simmer, add maple syrup, and taste for seasoning. Pour glaze over potatoes, garnish with toasted coconut if desired, and serve hot.

After training at the Culinary Institute of America, Antwon Brinson worked at luxury resorts around the world, including the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, before moving to Charlottesville as the executive chef at Common House. Brinson is currently creating programs to help young adults find direction through culinary arts.

Asparagus with gremolata, bacon vinaigrette, and puffed wild rice.

Asparagus with gremolata, bacon vinaigrette, and puffed wild rice

Devin Rose of Adrift, White Stone

For the gremolata:

¼ cup mint, finely minced 

¼ cup parsley, finely minced 

¼ cup lemon zest

½ cup olive oil

kosher salt

freshly ground pepper

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and set aside.

¼ cup salt

2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and peeled

10 cups peanut oil

½ cup wild rice

sea salt

¼ cup bacon, minced

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

2 cups 75/25 blend oil

kosher salt

fresh ground pepper

smoked steelhead trout roe

Devin Rose of Adrift, White Stone

Fill a large mixing bowl with ice cubes and water. Add the salt to 8 quarts of water and bring to a rolling boil. Blanch the asparagus until tender, plunge in the ice bath to chill, and then drain and dry. Heat peanut oil to 425 degrees. Flash-fry the wild rice until crispy and slightly puffed. Remove to paper towels and blot excess oil. Season with sea salt to taste. Fry bacon until golden brown and the fat is rendered, remove from heat, and add vinegar, blend oil, and salt and pepper to taste. 

To serve, top the asparagus with the gremolata and a drizzle of bacon vinaigrette. Garnish with puffed wild rice and smoked trout roe.

A native of the Northern Neck, Devin Rose has worked in kitchens since age 13. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, he worked at The Inn at Little Washington and other outstanding restaurants before opening Adrift with his wife, Kati.

This article originally appeared in our October 2019 issue.

June 11, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum
July 9, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum
August 13, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum