Chef Brian Voltaggio of Volt

Breaking Down the Dish is a feature of the D.C Sustainable Food column in which we highlight a single dish from a local restaurant, and investigate the inspiration and local/regional producers behind it.

This week’s Breaking Down the Dish: VOLT – Tasting of Tuscarora Farms Organic beets & Catoctin Mountain Lamb Meatloaf

Chef/Owner of VOLT Bryan Voltaggio's cuisine starts with a simple premise: being responsible with product and understanding where product comes from.

"People have been doing this for years, of course," Voltaggio said, "but we’re trying to be responsible in different ways regarding how we get our ingredients - so menu creativity becomes very important."

Creativity is at the heart of the two dishes in this week's Breaking Down the Dish, which take fresh and local ingredients and apply Voltaggio's self-described modern American interpretations.

Voltaggio, who grew up in Frederick, Maryland and began cooking at 15, opened VOLT nearly 8 months ago and has to date received numerous accolades from prominent food media for his inventive cuisine - including a #15 ranking in the Washingtonian's 100 best restaurants of 2009.

Ultimately, though, his food is rooted in the understanding of seasons and a close connection with both product and producers.

"When you go where the product comes from and see it growing in the field, and touch it and talk to the grower about it, that makes an impact," Voltaggio said.

Voltaggio notes, too, that he's seeing greater awareness among his customers regarding a search for more purity in food, which in turn is driving demand for better quality ingredients.

"It's all going back to 'this is how it should be,' before we modernized food in our country and started to mass produce food in unhealthy ways," Voltaggio said.

"We’re not going to change the world in my little restaurant," he continued, "but at least if I have some talented cooks coming through here, and I start training people to do things the right way, then maybe it will spread and I can help make an impact on what the culinary scene is in this country - then I think I’ve done my job."

For those interested in keeping track of VOLT's developments, both in and out of the kitchen, check out the restaurant's blog.

Tasting of Tuscarora Farms Organic beets

  • Roast golden beets, Ruby beets and Chioggia beets - Tuscarora Organic Growers
  • Banyuls vinaigrette

  • Goat's Cheese - Cherry Glen, Maryland

  • Large hydroponic pepper cress - Lakeville Produce, Pennsylvania.

  • Flowering tarragon and arrow leaf turnip greens - Chef’s Garden, Ohio.

Cooks slow roast the beets over a low heat to make sure the sweetness is enhanced. They then create a mousse from blending the chevre into an anglaise. When it is the consistency of heavy cream, they then apply it through a whipped-cream canister. Xanthan gum is added to the balsamic six as a thickening agent to create the viscosity of a reduced vinegar. This is drizzled over the beets, greens and chevre.

Catoctin Mountain Lamb Meatloaf, with merguez sausage, beluga lentils, arugula, roasted pepper and cumin-toasted almonds "Most of what we gather for this dish is within 100 miles of the restaurant," Voltaggio said.

"That means a lot because the travel time is shortened. Just being able to go to Dianne’s farm and see her goats is amazing. We’ve already taken the staff there on a field trip."

Catoctin mountain lamb and merguez sausage - Mary’s Delight, Maryland arugula and roasted pepper - Tuscarora Organic Growers.

This dish came together as a twist on the classic application where sausage is used as a stuffer rather than stuffing it. The merguez is formed from the shoulder of the lamb, and then rolled around the tenderloin. Doing so allows the loin to be perfectly cooked sous vide at a medium rare temperature in the middle.

Chef Barton Seaver of Blue Ridge

Executive Chef Barton Seaver is not selling Kool-Aid at the new Glover Park eatery Blue

Ridge, but you might not know it from the buzz surrounding both the restaurant and the man himself.

Whether or not it's on the menu, people have been lining up to drink in what Seaver is talking about, and what he's serving. For a man interested in "saving dinner" - Seaver's narrative device for highlighting the human component of food conservation - it's all part of a grander evangelical strategy (including an upcoming seafood retail outlet and a soon-to-air television show) to drive greater awareness of and diversity to eating sustainably - even Jamie Oliver recently said it's impossible to make a difference without a television show.

"Sustainability is about people," Seaver said. "And there really is a human component of this, which is consumption. This is not about what we need to save but how we enable ourselves to save things."

With Blue Ridge (which opened this past Monday), Seaver and owners Eli Hengst and Jared Rager will put that mission to the test with their people-focused, neighborhood farmhouse-style joint that features "simple, approachable cuisine emphasizing sustainability and local sourcing." The focus of that sourcing, as the name suggests, is the area in and around the Blue Ridge Mountains and surrounding Shenandoah Valley just south of D.C.

For its seafood offerings, the restaurant will focus on mountain fish: trout, catfish, as well as low country options; oysters and blue fish from the Chesapeake. Meat, too, emanates from the Piedmont region, primarily via relationships nourished through the Virginia Department of Agriculture's Farm-to-Table program, which connects Virginia farmers with area chefs and restaurateurs. Blue Ridge will purchase whole animals that will make their way, in near entirety, onto the menu - from charcuterie, to appetizers, to main courses.

Despite the local and regional focus at Blue Ridge, you won't find any of the names of farmers and producers tacked onto the end of each menu item, merely a simple note at the bottom stating the company's mission to do business in "ways that benefit the entire community."

And while Seaver says the "the story" of Blue Ridge is an important, perhaps driving force of the restaurant, he and the restaurant's owners will work hard to ensure that people'sexperiences focus on the communal aspect of dinner.

"People come to a restaurant like Blue Ridge to hang out with friends, to make food a part of their entertainment for the night," Seaver said. "In that there’s the opportunity to guide people back toward the science, subtly sliding in there the celebration of the resource as well as a celebration of the consumption of the resource."

With the "steak of the day" concept, Seaver has taken an idea diners are familiar with in regards to seafood, and applied it to beef.

"We'll break down the whole cow, and we’ll roll through one cut and into another," Seaver said. "It will be a rotating selection, and you'll get to try something a little different every time.

You might hit on the tenderloin three consecutive visits – who knows. That’s part of the fun of it."

And don't expect enormous protein portions, a sin that Seaver feels is a missing part of the debate on conservation.

"Even if you’re eating the most sustainable product on earth (an oyster), if you’re eating a hundred of them in one sitting, you’re not doing anybody any good."

The offerings will also be economically accessible, with entrees ranging from $12 to $21 (the current price of Blue Ridge's Ribeye). Blue Ridge will source its whole cows from Arlen Beery, a Mennonite farmer from just outside of Charlottesville.

"I'm incredibly excited to be working with him," Seaver said. "He’s got a family, and he’s part of a community that takes care of each other. I’m pleased and proud to support that. When you’re talking about sustainability, I like to think it's also defined by the original steward of the resource benefiting from that resource."

Seaver will serve his rotating steak cuts with a simple herb butter of mint and parsley, sourced from Path Valley Farm in Pennsylvania. The herbs "accentuate and brighten the steak," Seaver said, and a simple preparation of smoked paprika, cinnamon, salt and sugar highlights the"irony" flavors of the beef. The sweet potatoes making up the mashed sweet potato accompaniment also emanate from Path Valley.

And if you're looking for the perfect wine to pair with your steak dinner, Blue Ridge wine Director Brian Cook has developed a diverse and affordable list -- including 50 bottles under $50 as well as a fine collection of Virginia wines that actually shine (try the Albermarle Rose).

Cook also features a number of vintages produced via sustainable viticulture practices, including organic and biodynamic selections.

Time will tell if Blue Ridge can help "save dinner." If it does, it will be the dining public, and not Seaver, who make it happen. He wouldn't have it any differently.

So head on down to Glover Park and cast your vote. Ask questions, enjoy the ambience and sample the local fare from the Mid-Atlantic - just don't forget to enjoy yourself.