Like so many routes to Rappahannock County, Sebastian Carosi’s was supposed to end somewhere else.
“We had come down from Maine, we were maybe looking for someplace warmer to live,” Carosi says, speaking of the car trip that he and his wife, Heather, and his young son Zander, made to Virginia two months ago from Kennebunk, where he headed the New England Farm 2 Fork Project. He’d also hoped to visit Polyface Farm, local food movement icon Joel Salatin’s spread close to Charlottesville.
In the northern Shenandoah, someone at the Route 11 Potato Chips factory suggested he check out Rick Wasmund’s distillery in Sperryville.
So, next door to Wasmund’s, Jerome Niessen has been busy for close to a year building Rappahannock Central, a food coop, artists’ cooperative and European-style restaurant and cafe. Someone mentioned the restaurant, introduced Carosi to Niessen. And within a day or two, Niessen hired him to be chef of Cafe Indigo, which the two hope to open sometime this winter.
Niessen had envisioned the restaurant as a classic European hangout, where those seeking lunch or dinner would be as welcome as those planning to linger over an espresso, a glass of wine or a shot of wi-fi.
But Neissen’s other major interest — the Rappahannock Natural Foods Coop, which you’ll evidently have to walk through to get to the restaurant — meshed with Carosi’s longstanding interest and experience in local, simple foods, sustainable practices and . . . the whole Shaker thing.
“They were the originators of sustainable farming,” says Carosi, who spent several years heading culinary operations at Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire. “If Shakers wanted watermelon, they grew watermelon. If they wanted pork, they raised pigs. They are largely responsible for the whole idea of conserving seeds in bags and packets.”
Thus Carosi “will be getting the majority of our menus from about 15 local farmers,” he says, including those who comprise the Rappahannock Natural Foods coop.
Cafe Indigo, Carosi, says, will find its niche in a county that includes, of course, one of the world’s best restaurants (the Inn at Little Washington) but is also home to several chef-defined, middle-market success stories (Sperryville’s Thornton River Grille and, more recently, Washington’s revamped Blue Rock Inn.)
For now, Carosi says, he’s enjoying the excitement of creating something new, and the chance to bring “plain country cooking” into the 21st century — and to Sperryville’s River District.