It's a sunny afternoon in Virginia, and chef Jeremiah Langhorne is wearing an apron and stoking a wood fire. Nearby, his general manager and beverage director Alex Zink is shaking cocktails and opening wine. You would be forgiven for thinking that the duo behind Washington, D.C., hot spot The Dabney was on the clock, but they’re miles from the restaurant (about 70 miles west, to be precise) at the Langhorne family farm in Boyce, Virginia, putting together a Monday-night cook’s-day-off dinner for friends.
Those pals are a who’s who of mid-Atlantic producers, among them Ivy City microdistillers John Uselton and Elizabeth Lowe, who have thoughtfully brought some of their Green Hat Gin, and Jonathan Bethony and Jessica Azeez of beloved D.C. bakery Seylou, who come bearing a crusty, whole-grain levain. Langhorne pounces on the loaf, slicing it, drizzling the slices with garlic oil, and adding them to the grill at the edge of his quarter-acre garden. As the toasty fragrance fills the air, gardener Jonathan Stark ambles over with a bowl of still-warm-from-the-vine tomatoes and fresh herbs.
“Oh, yes!” Langhorne says, twinkling at the sight of the lemon verbena, chives, and basil. “Herbs are so much better when they’re fresh. An herb that’s a couple hours off the plant is way more vibrant and flavorful than one that’s sat in the walk-in for a few days and died. It’s like eating a Costco croissant then going to France and having the real thing.” In summer months, this farm gives The Dabney the real thing—herbs are picked and delivered to the restaurant within an hour of the start of service. The Dabney also maintains a rooftop herb garden that cooks harvest from daily.
Party guests gather near the makeshift bar, where Zink is shaking the Green Hat Gin with just-picked raspberries for Blackcap Sours, their conversation turning to sourcing organic grain for distillates and bread production. The common thread that connects these D.C. business owners is a steadfast commitment to enhancing the strength of the local farm economy, and though it’s everyone’s day off, they clearly enjoy talking shop.
“When you come across another chef or maker who is as committed to growing the region’s breadbasket, it’s special,” Langhorne notes. And the varied terrain of the Chesapeake Bay watershed that surrounds D.C. makes for one ample breadbasket. The region is extraordinarily biodiverse, with the potential to grow just about anything: Coastal marshes and inlets provide the sandy soils loved by Southern crops like melons, corn, and beans; lush, grassy areas provide fodder for dairy cattle; wild foods like ramps and mushrooms thrive in Appalachian forests, where nearby orchards burst with apples and stone fruit.
Some of that bounty is sizzling on the grill, where the bread has been replaced with tiny lamb T-bones slathered in spicy chermoula, a crisping spatchcocked chicken, chanterelles, and juicy nectarines. More of it is already on the table—warm crab bathed in a garlicky cream sauce over charred broccoli; a bacon-and-potato salad; raw and grilled summer squash swimming in tangy goat cheese cream drizzled with emerald-green chive oil.
Cocktails finished, Zink opens a local Champagne-style sparkling wine from Thibaut-Janisson, declaring it “one of the most beautiful wines made in Virginia.” The group meanders to a table on the lawn. Jeremiah’s wife, Jenny, sets down a melon salad and that grilled bread, now crowned with ricotta, sliced tomatoes, basil, and roasted peppers. As new friends start passing plates, Jeremiah offers a toast: “Here’s to the future of this beautiful region!”