Pantry benefit: ‘Food is the Big Bang here’

Notwithstanding the forecast, the stars will be out in Rappahannock this Saturday for the food pantry’s benefit dinner at the Meadows, the Washington home of Beverly and John Fox Sullivan. Luminosity levels promise to be high, regardless of the weather, in this beautiful setting that’s adaptable to whatever Mother Nature delivers.

The benefit’s traditional themed libations served by director Mimi Forbes, the galactic nucleus of pantry world, reflect the possibilities. What will it be? A dark-and-stormy? Or better yet, a clear sky? It doesn’t really matter — not with a giant party tent for any overflow from the covered verandas and the elegantly comfortable rooms, one opening into another, that invite guests to wander through and sit a while in a gallery of Haitian art collected over a half century.

The Meadows is an attraction in its own right, showcasing one of the country’s foremost collections of Haitian art.

But food is the Big Bang here. Thanks to the stellar support of the county’s restaurants, inns, caterers, cooks and wineries, the dining experience is celestial. The center is Southern barbecue, chicken and pork, sauced and grilled by Amissville’s Big John. Appetizers range from quesadillas from Tula’s to marinated mushrooms from the School House. Deserts inspire visions of sugar plums. The sides include life-time favorites, like country-style green beans, baked beans and slaw, and original nouveau accompaniments to barbecue.

Dawn Sieber, the new chef at the Foster-Harris House and a first time contributor to the pantry benefit, was just back from opening day at Washington’s market last Sunday and excited about the shopping prospects ahead. Asked what she’ll add to the benefit’s menu, she answered, “Grilled vegetables, but beyond that it’s whatever grabs me!” Her priorities here are the same as those in her Florida Keys restaurant: “Sustainable and, whenever possible, local.”

“And community involvement, community service,” added daughter Zoe, who says she is living a dream of teaming with her mom to run the acclaimed bed-and-breakfast. In college, she’d been a volunteer at a soup kitchen, and on an early trip to Washington, both Siebers remarked on the sign at the pantry’s former home.

“We wanted to learn more,” Zoe recalled. But in the three months and one week since taking over management of the inn, the duo had yet to find time to join the community. “Oh my goodness! This is perfect!” the mother-daughter team agreed when Tammy Gill, the chief astrologer for the benefit, stopped by the Foster-Harris House on her search for new stars. So they’re not only contributing to the dinner — they’re adding an interactive cooking class and dinner for six to the benefit raffle that features objects of desire ranging from Nats tickets to dinner at The Inn.

Another new addition to the raffle is six months of delectables from the Red Truck Bakery, shipped directly to the winner’s home. This Warrenton and now Marshall landmark is a Rappahannock wannabe; five different sites in the town of Washington were considered — and measured — for possible expansions before the Red Truck recently grew into its second Fauquier County location.

“They all proved too small for a main store and headquarters,” explained Bryan Noyes. “But we haven’t given up on a smaller store there. Rappahannock and the Red Truck go way back.”

Food writer Marian Burros wrote a glowing review in the New York Times in 2007 after first trying the baked goods at a picnic in the county, and Terry Lehman’s Epicurious Cow at Ben Venue was the first store to carry the cakes, pies and cookies Noyes was turning out in his Orlean farmhouse.

So the Red Truck is keeping its parking spot in the community, supporting RAWL, Headwaters and Belle Meade School as well as the pantry, and by popular demand for the benefit Noyes will bake dessert cupcakes based on the Red Truck’s famous Alma Hackney rum cake. “The original recipe is from our then 90-year-old North Carolina choir director,” Noyes noted.

The director of the Rappahannock County Food Pantry puts the star-studded celebration in perspective.

“People shouldn’t have to choose between buying food and paying the rent,” said the cosmic force that pulls the food pantry stars — supporters, volunteers and clients — into orbit every week. “Heads and hearts don’t work well — on the job, in school or at home — if people are hungry. That’s why we’re here. It’s about sharing.”

Share the resources, share the fun and share the community spirit at the annual benefit dinner that caps Food Pantry Day in Rappahannock this Saturday, May 13. Tickets for both the dinner ($100 apiece) and raffle ($20 apiece or six for $100) are still available online from or by calling the pantry at 540-987-5090.

And don’t forget everyone’s favorite Pet Parade that morning at the pantry. Registration begins at 9:30 and the cavalcade of critters starts at 10. The entry fee is a donation of dog food or cat food for the pantry, and every contestant wins a certificate suitable for posting on the fridge.