The Williamsburg Winery's new culinary team exudes a near tangible energy.
"It's just the passion for the food that really drives us together," said Troy Buckley, Chef de Cuisine of Café Provençal, one of two restaurants on the Wessex Hundred farm.
There's a culinary evolution in motion at the winery, driven by the passion and creative energy of its team. At an establishment recognized for its award-winning wines, the goal is to become a destination for food as well.
"It's allowing guests to come here for a true culinary, epicurean experience," said Simon Smith, the winery's Vice President of Food and Beverage. Smith, who started at the winery in October, envisions the winery becoming one of the finest food and wine destinations on the East Coast.
"It's the Wessex Hundred experience," Smith said. "A getaway, a place to experience everything."
Marketing Director Michael Kimball said the "Wessex Hundred Experience" concept started in 2014. But Smith has played a key role in the culinary vision. That vision attracted Buckley and Ian Robbins, the winery's new executive chef, hired to oversee both Café Provençal and Gabriel Archer Tavern.
Buckley's background includes working as the Chef de Cuisine of Williamsburg's Silt restaurant, and Robbins has worked with chefs such as Daniel Boulud, Charlie Trotter and Michel Richard. Buckley and Robbins arrived at Wessex Hundred just a few weeks ago.
"We're both excited about this," Robbins said. "Having a goal to work toward."
The winery's big goal starts small. It starts local – right on the Wessex Hundred farm, in fact.
In January, the winery began growing its own produce for use in the restaurants. It takes the "farm-to-table" concept one step further, Robbins said.
And for what the winery can't grow on its own farm, it'll partner with other Virginia farms: "to allow us to do a farm-to-farm experience," Smith said.
And to showcase the bounty of Virginia, Kimball said. "It's just really showcasing what the land provides us."
At the start of February, Café Provençal introduced the Farmer Spotlight Series through the restaurant's midweek dinner menu. Offered Tuesday-Thursday, this three-course menu highlights the offerings of a local farm in its main course. Currently, the menu's main course is lamb from Border Springs Farm in western Virginia.
"Virginia has all of these things," Robbins said. Eventually, he wants to reach the point where the restaurants only utilize products from Virginia, or nearby. Building a network, a community of support.
In a world that has become so big, Kimball said, "Sometimes it's really beautiful when you can bring it back to that local level."
Beyond finding local farms, Robbins said the culinary team wants to support smaller farms – quality farms that raise animals humanely and practice environmental stewardship. This farm-to-farm idea isn't easily accomplished, but the winery is committed to the philosophy.
"You can be part of the culture," Robbins said, "Or you can set the culture. You can create the culture."
"We're really excited about where we're headed," Kimball said.
Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.
For more information, visit williamsburgwinery.com or call 229-0999.
When: 5:30-9 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday
Where: 5810 Wessex Hundred
Info: cafe-provencal.com, 941-0317
The Gabriel Archer Tavern
When: 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Sunday-Friday; 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday
Where: 5800 Wessex Hundred
Info: gabrielarchertavern.com, 564-8869