The Big Chill(i)




Virginia Pork Chili Verde from Croc's named Dish of Hampton Roads

By Patrick Evans-Hylton

Complex with several layers of flavor, as well as creative with multiple local ingredients, Virginia Pork Chili Verde was named the Dish of Hampton Roads at the 2011 March of Dimes Signature Chefs Auction.

The rich, flavorful stew, served over a bed of grits, is the creation of Croc’s 19th Street Bistro’s Chef Matt Knack. A commitment to buying fresh and buying local led Knack to craft the winning dish.

“I was looking at the Full Quiver Farms (in Suffolk) website and saw that they had local pork butts, and I looked at all the other farms in our area ... to see what they had. I looked at the ingredient list and ended up with the Chili Verde,” he says.

The ingredient list includes not only pork from Full Quiver Farms, but peppers, grape tomatoes and onions from Mattawoman Creek Farms on the Eastern Shore; jalapenos from New Earth Farms in Virginia Beach; tomatoes from Cromwell Farms in Virginia Beach; and a bouquet of herbs from the restaurant’s own garden, grown on site. Stone ground white grits came from Byrd Mill Co. in Ashland.

An oven-roasted salsa, created by sous chef John Morrisroe, garnishes the top.

Commitment to sustainability in the dish shouldn’t be a surprise; Croc’s was certified as the first green restaurant in the state, and, in season, hosts the Old Beach Farmers Market on Saturdays in their parking lot.

“Everyone should use local foods,” Knack says. “It’s the freshest you can buy, it gives back to the community, you know where it’s coming from, it’s usually cheaper and it’s very easy to do.”

Knack’s culinary journey began by happenstance when he moved to Charlotte to live with a cousin who loved to cook. Later, another move was equally pivotal.

“ ... I moved to Charleston, S.C. with some of my best friends. We didn’t have our moms cooking for us anymore, so [we’d] make dinner almost every night. Our friends kept on coming to dinner, and we kept on cooking it. So one night I was thinking to myself, I could do this for a living. And here I am.”

Knack returned to his native Hampton Roads and started as a dishwasher in a corporate cafeteria, leaving there to attend classes at Culinary Institute of Virginia and begin two externships—one at Omar’s Carriage House in Norfolk and the other at Croc’s. He has been at Croc’s five years. This is Knack’s second year participating in the March of Dimes event.

“I love this event and will keep on coming back as long as they let me,” he says. “I have not really thought ahead to next year; I am still in shock and soaking it all in still from this year.” Want to try Virginia Pork Chili Verde yourself? The dish has been added to the Croc’s menu and is served daily.

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