Photo by Kieran Wagner
John Maher has big things in store for Richmond’s food scene – and most likely you haven’t tasted a bit of his food yet. But Oprah has.
In fact, while at California’s renowned French Laundry, the kitchen prepared the big O a doggy bag with foie gras – OMG y’all!
The Powhatan native brings twelve years of culinary experience from across the United States back to Richmond on this return home.
“We’re on the cusp of something really great in this city,” Maher says.
In a short time, Maher has created a name for himself among Richmond chefs. With his social media savvy (ChefJohnny on Twitter) – he’s built a brand from scratch in just over three months.
His new project spoon launches with a pop-up restaurant in the Pasture space on Grace St. where he’s been helping friend Jason Alley in the kitchen.
Consider spoon 1.0 on May 20 Maher’s coming out – he’s showing Richmond his approach to classical flavors with the fine dining techniques in which he’s been trained.
“I’ve always wanted my own place. This is my first step towards brick and mortar. No one knows me, so it’s a logical first step to do spoon as a pop-up and show Richmond who I am.”
With his series of pop-ups, Maher plans to change menus with each event as a way to poll Richmond on their tastes as he develops a concept for what will become a physical location for spoon. For spoon 1.0, expect spring flavors.
As menus progress, he plans to play with more avante garde flavors and ingredients. For example, he’s been toying with the idea of fresh grass plantings for one of his courses at the debut dinner. To Maher, food is about more than just taste – it’s an interactive experience.
He says Richmond traditionally hasn’t embraced a provocative menu — Maher jokes if you were a restaurant and didn’t have crab cakes on a menu, you would have to close your doors. Coming back and meeting chefs over the past decade, he’s seen the landscape change.
He left Virginia at 18, studied in Rhode Island, worked in New York City, Germany, and Sonoma wine country. After years of paying his dues on the line and in other kitchens, he had plans of opening his first venture in San Francisco.
What he had envisioned as a small spot in San Francisco snowballed into a huge project that would be seating 120. Combined with the ending of a five-year relationship with his partner, Maher said it was time for a change of pace. Offered a position as head chef of a Carribean resort, he spent a year on the islands before making the back to Richmond.
“I needed a night and day switch,” he says.
Sitting at the bar at 2113, Maher’s sipping on one of his go-to cocktails – Negroni. Tonight, April 26, he gets to picks up another passion while back in RVA. House music. He’ll be DJing at the new lounge on 2113 E. Main St. beginning at 10 p.m.
As for dating, it’s on the back burner he says.
“It’s hard to be in a committed relationship with a chef – gay or straight – it’s something I bring up when I first meet somebody…This is my business and livelihood,” he says. ”As much as I want a relationship, someone to wakeup to and to cook for, right now, I can’t.”
“Once I get there, it’ll be awesome.”
He says California could eventually be in the cards again. As cool as Richmond has become, Maher says he still misses the weather, the people and the politics of the west coast.
“Let’s find someone here to swoop me off my feet,” he jokes.
Oh, and guys – appropriately, he’s big spoon.
Kevin Clay is the editor and publisher of GAYRVA.COM. He is a Richmond native, loves the city and knows it's on the edge of greatness. Don't hold back RVA. You can follow Kevin on GAYRVA's Twitter or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With its hot hues, 2113 has the big city look. Owners Justin Ayars and Jesse La Vancher prepare for a new menu launch in time for this weekend’s Fourth Friday.June 20, 2012
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