Takeout But Still Cooking Strong: Chef Jose de Brito Thrives in the Culture of Takeout
“Takeout but still cooking strong.”
That’s how Chef Jose de Brito punctuates his social media posts during the Culture of Takeout. The acclaimed chef who once helped The Alley Light become Charlottesville’s first James Beard semifinalist for the nation’s best new restaurant has not allowed the pandemic to plague his passion and creativity. Officially Pastry Chef at Fleurie, but filling various roles for the restaurant and its sister Petit Pois, de Brito has been busy. For one, he launched a “Bake Sale” of pastries like Tartes aux Fraises, Gateau de Voyage, Tarte Saint Louis, Gateau a la carotte, and Le Homard dans sa Tarte. He also prepares pop-up family-style meals to-go, like Duck a L’Orange – a whole Polyface Farm duck stuffed with Autumn Olive Farms pork, duck, walnuts, and figs, with candied orange sauce and pickled oranges. For Easter, our gratin of lamb shoulder and potato was the type of dish that is so delicious you feel sad when it’s gone. And, in the height of asparagus season, he created one of the most beautiful things I have ever eaten.
Yet, though de Brito’s dishes often look like works of art, his own view is that eye-appeal can be overrated. While de Brito’s fuse is longer than it once was, he still has little patience for chefs who elevate appearance or concept above taste. To de Brito, food — all food — should be yummy. The pleasure of one bite should make you eager for another.
It was de Brito’s fondness for yumminess, in part, that prompted me to ask him to cook takeout for a guys’ night this week. Socially distanced, we gathered on a friends’ patio for drinks and dinner. Under the circumstances, yumminess was paramount. So, I asked de Brito to make whatever he wanted.
He chose Les Farcis de Provence — a summery Provencal dish of vegetables stuffed with ground meat and rice. As a child in France, de Brito admits, he disliked the dish. Intensely. Recently though, “I finally beat my fears and achieved a really tasty farcie,” says de Brito. First, he confits the vegetables in olive oil and coats their inside with a marmalade of tomato and shallots. Next he stuffs them with a mixture of ground beef, ground Autumn Olive Farms pork, herbs, and rice. Finally, he tops them with garlic breadcrumbs, and into the oven they go.
The result? Yumminess achieved.