Meet the Chefs Elevating Food in Virginia Wine Country
By Matthew Fitzsimmons
Picnicking is a popular pastime at most wineries, but sometimes, a charcuterie board isn’t enough. “If they don’t have food, it’s hard for me to justify going there on my one day off. I want to expect good food,” said Victoria Cosner, Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyard’s Executive Chef.
Many wineries offer snacks or small dishes, but only a few elevate their food to be on par with their wine. Here are a few local chefs who are doing just that.
Victoria Cosner, Executive Chef at Pippin Hill (Charlottesville)
“I was one of those kids cooking with my grandma, so baking has a special place in my heart,” said Victoria Cosner during a chat at Pippin Hill. “But the joy I found in sitting down and eating with family who may not see each other during the day is what made me fall in love with cooking.
In high school I found a technical school with a culinary arts program. After graduation, I realized cooking is what I wanted to do. I thought about going to culinary school but instead I just put my feet to the ground.”
Victoria started at Pippin Hill in 2015 as a prep cook and worked her way up. She was promoted to Executive Chef in July 2022.
Victoria describes cooking as something of an art form, where the flavors speak for themselves.
“I don’t like to put myself in a box. For me, the importance of creating a dish is texture, but I also want umami and a touch of sweetness. Acidity is still very important to me, which is why I add petit verdot into my cupcakes. When making desserts, people all too often only think of one note, but I’m like; where’s the texture?
I love pairing wine with our sauvignon blanc. It’s a very bright wine and pairs well with just about anything because it can carry different flavors.
I also love our Wild Acre; it’s interesting to pair a food with a robust wine that has so much going on.”
As much as Victoria enjoys creating new dishes, she loves sharing the experience just as much.
“Cooks are different than accountants. My team is a bit sassy. I just vibe with the entire kitchen aspect.” This teamwork includes collaborations with her fellow chefs, as she and Tim Moore of Early Mountain Vineyards recently co-hosted a pair of dinners at both locations.
Guests can join the fun as well. Victoria teaches Pippin’s cooking classes, which include everything from sushi to French cooking. Victoria explained her favorite part is when a guest looks at her and asks, “Chef, did I make these?!?”
Jeff Judge, Chef and Co-Owner of Eagletree Farm (Leesburg)
Eagletree isn’t your typical winery experience, as their focus is food rather than wine. Whereas most wineries have charcuterie plates, paninis or flatbreads, Eagletree feels like a mix of quaint French country cuisine meets your home dining room.
Chef Jeff Judge and his wife Lori purchased the land in the early 1980s, eventually planting a vineyard. When they opened Eagletree as a restaurant in 2019, they already had their own estate wine bottled.
Jeff spent 15 years in the communications industry while Lory ran McKeever’s Pub in McLean. He occasionally helped out in the kitchen, which reignited his love of cooking.
But Jeff had higher goals than pub food. He trained at L’Academy de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, which was one of the nation’s top culinary schools. Such was its fame the US ‘pastry Olympics’ team would train here before going overseas to compete.
While explaining the inspiration behind Eagletree’s menu, Jeff expounded on the importance of “mirepoix”, describing the 2-parts onion, 1-part carrots, 1-part celery combination as the foundation of French cuisine. But he insists the term “French inspired” only tells half the story.
“When people say ‘French cooking,’ it’s the technique, not the dish. That’s what sets French cuisine apart from all other traditions. It’s not superior to dishes from other locations, but it’s the highest level of technique there is.”
Jeff prefers to cater to a more mature palate but he’s well aware of what casual diners are looking for. To that end, wood-fire pizza is offered alongside filet mignon and Bombay chicken.
Regarding food and wine pairings, Jeff feels his rosé goes very well with sweet & spicy, one of his favorite food profiles. He also spoke highly of cabernet franc as a wine that goes with a variety of dishes. Yet Jeff prefers diners seek their own pairings.
“I like our guests to experiment. It’s not always white wine with chicken or fish and red with meat; it’s what you taste.”
Tim Moore, Executive Chef at Early Mountain (Madison)
In true chef fashion, Tim kicked-off his interview by insisting he can’t talk with a guest until he’s fed you. Otherwise; how would someone know what his cooking is about?
In short order, a dish of sweet crab and gazpacho appeared. Who was I to decline the hospitality of someone who cooked at a three star Michelin restaurant?
As with many chefs, Tim’s journey was a circuitous one.
Punk music was Tim’s original love, but he took dishwashing and server jobs when not rocking with his band. Realizing the kitchen staff was having more fun than the servers, Tim made the switch to line cook. He was hooked.
Eventually Tim began looking for a place to hone his craft. He set the bar high – The Inn at Little Washington.
“I knew it was a swanky place, so I bought Executive Chef Patrick O’Connell’s first cookbook to get an idea what they were about. I didn’t have the experience to be a cook, but they saw I had expediter experience, which they needed. I took the job to get in the door.
I started in September 2012, planning to only spend four years here. The Inn would be my ‘university’.”
Most cooks stay at the Inn for around three years. Tim stayed for eight, rising to Lead Sous Chef. Afterwards, he was hired by Early Mountain which was looking to elevate their food program to match the caliber of their wine.
“My dishes are ‘elevated-casual’. Some guests weren’t happy when I took away the grilled cheese, but we stuck to our guns and eventually people realized what kind of experience is available to them. Guests are greeted by our hosts and get to experience a menu that is technique driven and done with love.
My favorite pairings include petit manseng, a variety that’s very specific to Virginia. One of my favorite combinations was a bison tartar dressed with a black garlic aioli, pickled ginger and spring onion. One bite of this with petit manseng was straight to umami town!
Another thing I love about Early Mountain is our Best of Virginia program, where in addition to EMV we serve an ever-rotating lineup of wines from all over Virginia.
It highlights what we’re about. We’re not just about Early Mountain but Virginia wine as a whole.”
Author: Matthew Fitzsimmons is a blogger who has visited nearly every winery in Virginia – most of them twice. Track his progress at https://winetrailsandwanderlust.com/.