An Unforgettable Meal & Navigating Food Sensitivities

Oct 12, 2021

eating, living

I had one unforgettable meal this summer.

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed so many lovely dishes this summer: fresh local tomatoes and peaches, herbs just picked from our garden over my infamous omelet, grouper caught the morning of, then pan-seared during our trip to St. Simons Island, Georgia…

But there was one meal that, quite literally, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about.

When we (my husband Jonathan and I) heard that one of our favorite local chefs, Brittanny Anderson, was teaming up with Village Garden RVA & Barboursville Vineyards for the Supper | Summer | Somm dinner series, we knew we needed to attend.

We’ve had so many wonderful meals at Anderson’s restaurants, and seeing that the menu would be inspired by heirloom Hanover tomatoes and Virginia wines – two of our favorite things – it became a must that we clear our schedules and buy tickets to the dinner.

I didn’t anticipate how this beautifully orchestrated dinner would move me to tears and ultimately change the way I think about and approach food – especially outside of my own kitchen.

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It feels important to share a detail of my story before I dive into writing about this beautiful meal. In May of this year, after dealing with chronic inflammation & digestive distress for most of my life, I learned that I have several food sensitivities: the two most severe being dairy (specifically casein (a milk protein in processed food), cow’s milk & goat’s milk) & wheat. According to the Global Autoimmune Institute, food sensitivities “result from an inappropriate activation of the immune system upon exposure to a particular food.” 

If you’re curious about the differences between food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances, this article is super helpful.

Learning about my sensitivities, how it’s impacted me, and my relationship with food, is a whole different story of its own.

Needless to say, I have learned a lot this summer (mostly the hard way) and going into this dinner, I knew I had to be honest with Anderson and her staff about what I could (and couldn’t) eat safely and enjoyably. 

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On the front-end, while purchasing our tickets, I was grateful to see a questionnaire box to share about food allergies or sensitivities. It felt much easier to just say up front – “Hey, by the way – here’s my situation…” without the awkwardness of having to answer many questions while seated at the table, and ultimately surprising the chef and kitchen staff on short notice (which is a nightmare for my recovering people-pleasing nature). It has since taught me to review the menu(s) and contact a restaurant in advance if I have questions or want to review my sensitivities.

I went into the dinner that night feeling confident that I would be taken care of, and even when we arrived, the host & staff confirmed with me my sensitivities. I felt really seen and heard – and that was only just the beginning.

Below, I detail this beautiful meal with photos to reflect what we enjoyed. It’s hard to put into words what this dinner meant to me and how Anderson accommodated me in her cooking. So instead, I’ll say it plainly: Brittanny & staff – thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for taking good care of me. It means more than you will ever know!

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Our meal began with a bang over a Melon salad with Chili, Buttermilk, Tomato leaf oil, and a Tomato granita paired with Barboursville’s Cuvee 1814 Brut. My portion did not include the buttermilk for obvious reasons; it was equally divine and did not disrupt the integrity of the dish, which showed me right away that Anderson not only wanted to provide a meal that I could safely enjoy but also experience the same flavor profiles as the rest of the guests.

Next, came a Crab croquette, Sauce vierge, and Green tomato relish, also served with the 1814 Brut. I’m assuming that because the crab croquette likely had flour or bread crumbs to bind it together, Anderson instead seared for me my own serving of Carolina trout with the green tomato relish on top – it was stunningly simple, yet so flavorful. I couldn’t believe she made me my very own plate. I loved it and literally licked my plate clean!

Then, a Tuna loin, Tomato bacon broth, Tomato vine, Gigante bean, and Shishito pepper paired with Barboursville’s “Allegrante” Rose. The tuna was seared to perfection, and the tomato bacon broth was the perfect base to the gigante beans and shishito peppers. This was probably my favorite dish of the night, and I also found myself scraping the bottom of the plate for the last bits of broth and tomato vine. The rose was also my favorite glass of wine of the night, and we ended up purchasing two more bottles to take home with us!

Second to last was the most beautiful rack of lamb I’ve ever had, served with a Tomato sherry butter, Summer vegetables, and Walnut with Barboursville’s Sangiovese Reserve. Again, for obvious reasons, I did not receive the tomato sherry butter, and it was still lovely. Anderson’s technique is perfect, and I didn’t miss the additional depth of flavor it would have provided. The reserve was paired beautifully with the lamb (and, we also ended up purchasing two more bottles to take home with us!)

To finish off our meal, the plan was to serve a tomato upside-down cake with peaches, crème anglaise, and almond with Barboursville’s “Phileo” Moscato.

Immediately, my heart dropped, knowing that there was no way Anderson could make this dish both gluten and dairy-free without changing the dish entirely. I had resigned to the fact that I would likely just enjoy the glass of wine, and that was plenty for me. However, when the dishes were brought out, I noticed that one was different from the rest: Anderson had made, especially for me, a rendition of a pavlova – a meringue-based dessert topped with peaches, almonds, and fresh basil. I was literally brought to tears.

You see, desserts have been the biggest challenges for me since learning of my sensitivities, and one of the things I have grieved the most. I will forever appreciate how Anderson saw a way for me to have something really special and delicious. I will never forget it!

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