Rocktown Food: Book Highlighting Local Eats, Restaurants To Be Released In December

Republished from the Daily News-Record

Photo Courtesy of Brandy Somers. 

The original cover of the soon-to- be-released “Rocktown Food” book pictured an artistic mess of scattered fruit, sliced vegetables and raw meat. The book’s creators were pleased with the result, but felt there was something missing.

After weeks spent with the tattooed pastry chefs, barbecuing food truck owners and beer-brewing brothers that make up the downtown Harrisonburg food scene, the team realized the book was more about people than food, and so they let a handful of humanity sneak onto the cover. 

The Origins 

Last year, Kathy Whitten approached Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance with the idea to create a cookbook that would feature recipes from downtown restaurants. However, it soon became clear that downtown’s culinary story wouldn’t fit into a small recipe book.

“As a newly established culinary district, we wanted to feature everything from the stories of our downtown restaurants and our growing craft beer culture to our strong agricultural heritage and all of the people and places along the way that make up this incredible food story,” says Kim Kirk, director of promotions for HDR.

To create the book, HDR recruited a dream team: Brandy Somers on photography, Lynda Bostrom on design and Kirsten Parmer on story writing. Since June, Somers and Parmer have been spending time with the people behind the downtown food scene, extracting stories that have never been told before.

“In doing interviews, I start out thinking, ‘What can I write that people don’t know about?’” Parmer says. “But then I talk to them as they’re making a drink or cooking, and these threads kind of appear that I didn’t see coming.” 

The Process 

For the Local Chop and Grill House shoot, the team decided to showcase the sweet and savory side of the 5-year-old restaurant — pastry chef Rachel Herr being the sweet, and head chef Ryan Zale, the savory.

As Somers and Parmer entered the swinging door to the kitchen, they were hit with the sound of bagpipes and the smell of six freshly baked cheesecakes ready to be smothered in ganache.

“I hope you like Scottish music,” Herr says. “Our kitchen manager is reconnecting with his roots.” Herr and Somers immediately start brainstorming ways to illustrate the restaurant’s sweet side. 

“ I could write with chocolate on a plate; I could spread ganache,” Herr says. “We do an apple crisp this time of year and we use an old school apple peeler.” Somers moves the baking table near the kitchen window, the room’s primary source of natural light, and captures Herr spreading ganache and peeling apples. Sugar is artfully strewn across the counter intermingling with fresh berries. In contrast, Zale is photographed butchering a slab of raw meat with bloodied hands. The shoot ends with an image of two hands — Herr’s with a handful of fresh strawberries and Zale’s with a chunk of raw meat. After the shoot, the group sits down to discuss the disparate aspects of both Zale and Herr. “ Sometimes I’ll make pizza dough in the mornings for staff meal and I’m never there in the evenings to enjoy it,” Herr says of her sweet side. “ Sometimes I’ll put on Cranberries Pandora and everyone kind of loves it. And as for savory, I take some pride in being able to hold my own; I carry my own stuff up the stairs even when it’s heavy.” 

Zale pipes in, offering up his love of butchering animal meat as evidence of his more savory side. 

Herr provides an example of his contrasting sweeter side. 

“I think you’re good at teaching people, and you’re patient and softer when you do that,” she says. “Say somebody doesn’t know how to make risotto; you’ve taught a hundred people how to do that.” 

Somers and Parmer are scheduled to cover more than 30 locally- owned restaurants and eateries before December in order to get the book out before the holidays. 

“The schedule is really aggressive, and we’re up to our ears in it,” Parmer says. “But every time we go to a shoot, we come away with the best story ever.” 

Rocktown Food, a 100page softbound book, is set to hit shelves in early December. Pre- order sales are available now online.

The final cover showcases local eats and hints at the people behind them. Photo courtesy of Brandy Somers Photography.

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