In keeping with modern traditions, we first discovered LONGOVEN via Instagram – their gorgeously composed plates and sophisticatedly curated feed instantly caught our eye (and stomach). LONGOVEN comprises a trio: Chefs Patrick Phelan and Andrew Manning, and Pastry Chef (Dominique Ansel mentee) Megan Fitzroy Phelan; and while they don’t currently have a permanent brick-and-mortar home, they’ve made a splash on the Richmond restaurant scene with artful and creative pop-up dining events. Naturally, we wanted in. A couple emails were exchanged and somehow that led to a LONGOVEN x Ledbury farm dinner, hosted by the gracious proprietors of Mt. Olympus Berry Farm, a private farm located in tiny Ruther Glen, Virginia, just a short drive from downtown Richmond. After experiencing a transcendent five-course meal in the front yard of the farmhouse, we interviewed Patrick and his cohorts to get their take on food, community, and why eggs are the ultimate ingredient.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Currently we work on our pop-up series, LONGOVEN. Simply, it is built off of each of our unique experience and passions. About a year ago we decided to return to Richmond from Italy and New York and open a restaurant. At the moment Megan is home with our daughter who was born this past October. Andrew and I work at Southbound and L’Opossum, respectively.
How did you end up in Virginia?
Andrew grew up here in Richmond. I arrived after high school and stayed for about twelve years. After that time Andrew had an opportunity to cook in Italy so I went and joined him there for several months. He would stay for the next eleven years. I came home and returned to college in Connecticut. I met Megan in the restaurant I worked in while I went to school where she was the pastry chef. Megan was the transplant. She had always lived in New England. When our daughter was born at 27 weeks it didn’t take long for her to see just how special this place is. The community was, and is, a tremendous source of support while we were in the hospital and beyond.
What’s your first memory of food?
For myself, nothing too special. A lot of Hamburger Helper and casseroles growing up. My first piece of foie gras was at Helen’s Restaurant on a misfire one evening. I was washing dishes and a waiter brought it to me and said “Enjoy.” Food changed forever in that moment.
Tell us a little bit about how you and Andrew started cooking together – how did LONGOVEN begin?
Longoven began about three years ago. It wasn’t named that, but while Andrew was in Italy and I in NYC we started talking about coming home to cook together. Rather than starting a restaurant straight away we decided to just start cooking when possible, in whatever locations we could secure. When we had our first pop-up we needed to call ourselves something and we settled on Longoven. “Long oven” is an old term for a low temperature braising oven. The idea being that the longer length of your arm you could put in the oven the lower the temperature. Because of this long ovens were commonly community ovens that could be found in the centers of towns where they were shared by everyone.
You both spent time abroad – how has this influenced your approach to creating dishes?
Andrew’s time in Italy allowed him to focus and appreciate cooking and living within the seasons. He had to directly find and source his products by going to market each day and learn to use what was available at the moment. My time with him in Northern Italy is best remembered by heading out very early in the mornings with garden shears, a knife, and basket to gather things such as herbs, caper berries, figs and apricots off the surrounding hills. We went to the fish market twice a week, and bartered for mushrooms and wild berries. These relationships force one to be more selective and creative. You realize the beauty of simplicity when you approach food directly from its source.
Your plates are incredibly visually appealing and immaculately composed, they’re like little works of art. How important is the visual element to you?
The visual aspect of our food always comes last. There are plenty of times that we are plating a dish for the first time right before it goes out. Our thoughts are more focused on flavors, contrasts , and how something will eat, and most importantly, how you feel when you finish the plate. The visual aspect is important in that we eat first with our eyes, but it’s always the last step of the dish. First, is taste and texture.
Dream dinner guest.
Andrew: I’ve got so many. It would be cool to cook for Tom Waits. I’d make him do a piece in between courses.
Patrick: Sounds funny but my mother. I’ve cooked for her a thousand times at home, but never at a table with what we do. I’d love for her to experience that.
Megan: Dominique Ansel, my mentor.
What are some of your favorite ingredients to work with?
Andrew: Vegetables and fish. If that’s all I had to work with for the rest of my life i would be just fine.
Patrick: Eggs. The possibilities are endless; whites, yolks, smoked, cured, custards, meringue, pasta, brioche…
Megan: Chocolate, fruit, and herbs
Best dish you’ve been served? Best thing you’ve served?
Andrew: One of the best things I’ve been served would easily have to be my wife’s grandmother’s rabbit stew with tomato and peppers. Best thing I’ve served, well I opened a bottle of Giuseppe Mascarello Cà d’ Morissio once for some friends. That’s pretty hard to beat!
Patrick: Porcini mushrooms roasted with garlic and herbs in chestnut leaves. Maybe it was the four hour meal they were within, but they were magical. Strictly in terms of service, Kim Kardashian’s birthday cake on a yacht off of Chelsea Piers in my socks. The floor was really nice and I was asked to remove my clogs…
Megan: Pizza in Italy with a full glass of Chianti. Best served, my own wedding cake! (Gianduja cremeux, milk chocolate hazelnut cookie crumble, Jivara chocolate mousse, and Manjari ganache.)
What is your greatest extravagance? Wine we can’t afford.
What is the quality you most like in a person? The team all agreed, great shoes. (Well, maybe just Patrick.)
What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Courage. Fear does wonders.
Photography by Kate Thompson. Find more of her work here. A big thanks to Mt. Olympus Berry Farm for being the gracious hosts of our dinner.