Coastal Virginia is the birthplace of American cuisine and America’s first food region. On April 26, 1607, Captain Christopher Newport and the Virginia Company colonists, including104 men and boys, had been crammed in three small ships for almost five months sailing from England, landed at present day Cape Henry in Virginia Beach. The day after coming ashore, a group, which included diarist George Percy, begin to explore, marching “eight miles up into the land,” probably around the present site of Lynnhaven Bay. There, Percy writes,
"We came to a place where they (the Native Americans) had made a great fire, and had been newly roasting Oysters. When they perceived our coming, they fled away to the mountains (large sand dunes), and left many of the Oysters in the fire. We eat some of the Oysters, which were very large and delicate in taste.”
That’s the first written record of prepared food in what would become English-speaking America; the first food review, if you will, and it seems the roasted Lynnhaven oysters were a critics choice. More than 400 years later they still are. And as the colony grew, so did Virginia’s regional cuisine - cuisine which would be influential on additional colonies as they took seed and grew.
An amalgamation of English, Native American, African and Caribbean foods and foodways came together in the first American melting pot to form a unique - and delicious - cuisine all of it’s own. It’s something that was constantly being added to, and still is. It’s an evolving look at where we’ve come from and where we are going to. There are lots of great food cities across the country, but Virginia has one special ingredients – in addition to great restaurants, chefs, foods and foodways – that others do not, and that is our history. This history is made relevant through ingredients used, menus crafted and stories told.
It’s Coastal Virginia Cuisine, and we invite you to come sit at our table.
Your host for every Coastal Virginia: The Birthplace of American Cuisine tour, Patrick Evans-Hylton is a Johnson & Wales-trained chef and an award-winning food journalist. He is publisher of Virginia Eats + Drinks Magazine as well as a cookbook author (Popcorn, Dishing Up Virginia, Nuts), food historian, culinary advisor for the Commonwealth of Virginia and a media awards judge for the prestigious James Beard Awards. Evans-Hylton cooks and writes in his Chesapeake Bay kitchen in Virginia Beach.