From York River oysters to local rockfish, mahi and flounder, the resort showcases local and sustainable seafood.Kingsmill Resort,
When Kingsmill's executive chef, Justin Dallinger, decides to add some oysters to the menu, he takes advantage of the neighborhood. He calls Tommy Leggett, who raises oysters where the York River meets the Chesapeake Bay, waters that yield the perfect balance of sweetness and salinity.
Dallinger knows if he calls on a Thursday, Leggett will pull the oysters the next morning and bring them to Kingsmill that afternoon. "They're not out of the water 24 hours and I'm serving them to diners at the James Landing Grille," says Dallinger, who has been cooking at the resort for 16 years.
York River oysters are just one of the many rotating oyster and fish choices on the big board at the James Landing Grille, the scenic dockside restaurant on the James River that’s open seasonally. They also make an appearance as stars of the daily specials at Elements 1010, the elegant flagship restaurant open year round.
They’re part of the sea-to-table story Dallinger has been telling in recent years at Williamsburg's only AAA Four Diamond resort. He came to Kingsmill as an extern from the Culinary Institute of Pittsburgh and worked his way through a series of jobs — cook, sous chef, restaurant chef, banquet chef — before becoming executive chef in 2014. He grew up in Lancaster, Penn., in a house with a garden in back where the family grew the produce they ate.
Early in his career, he cooked at a restaurant in Pennsylvania Dutch country where nearly every dish at the restaurant used items from the local village.
"We built a story for the dishes," he says. "Food can taste good. But if there's a story behind it, diners enjoy the experience more."
So when Dallinger began creating menus at Kingsmill as executive chef, he focused on using more local products with an eye towards both fresh ingredients and sustainability.
"Being in the Chesapeake Bay area surrounded by so much wonderful seafood and produce, it makes sense to use these products," he says. So the oysters come not only from Leggett's beds in the York River, but also from the Eastern Shore, each with their own taste a sort of oyster version of terroir.
"It's amazing the difference in the ones grown on the sea side and the bay side," Dallinger says. "The sea side is more of a salty, briny taste and the bay side has more sweetness to it, less on the salt."
Just like oysters, Dallinger can call his seafood monger one day and have the fresh catch the next day. When rockfish is in season, it's a favorite at the Grille. He gets mahi caught off the coast of Virginia Beach and North Carolina’s Outer Banks, local flounder and crab from nearby Hampton from mid-March through October, and blue catfish from local rivers, just to name a few. Those items end up on the big board at the James Landing Grille as well as in daily specials in Elements 1010, where the printed menu changes with the seasons four times a year.
The kitchen makes a nod to sustainable living by recycling oyster shells through a program with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. In fact, the kitchens at Kingsmill don’t contribute to landfills. Food waste goes into a bin that is picked up and processed into compost. That compost returns to the resort for use by the landscape crew. Everything else is recycled.
Relying on local providers doesn't stop at the waters. Some of Dallinger’s produce arrives from local farms and his staff grows all kinds of herbs — Greek oregano, lemon verbena, chocolate mint, rosemary and others — in a brick outcropping in front of the resort center. They end up in specials for the plate as well as specials from the bar.
But the herbs and the produce are ultimately about enhancing the story of the bounty of local waters. When Dallinger sits down with his chefs to write a menu, he's not just chronicling one tantalizing dish after another, he's writing chapters in an ever-changing story, relished one bite at a time.
For more information and reservations, visit kingsmill.com or call 800-832-5665.