Fire, Flour & Fork
Maureen Egan + Susan Winiecki
Fire, Flour & Fork
By Stephanie Ganz
Five years ago, Maureen Egan and Susan Winiecki, co-owners of Real Richmond Food Tours, had a crazy idea. Let’s create a food-focused event from scratch, celebrating the stories of Virginia, the best chefs in Richmond, and their connections around the country, they thought. It sounded fun — challenging, but fun — and that’s how Fire, Flour & Fork was born.
Last year was the fourth FFF, which spanned four days and brought together over 70 chefs, cookbook authors, and experts for a weekend of eating, drinking, touring, and learning. It was, by many metrics, a success, but it took a pound of flesh, as it always does. And what visitors don’t get to see each year is the work that starts in January and goes right up to the second before, the minutes of, and the days after the event itself. As a consultant to FFF, I have an insider’s view to the process. Here’s a peek at one day, a week before the big show:
4:00 am: Susan Winiecki blinks into the morning. She’s ready to face the day, just as soon as she cracks open a can of Diet Coke and finds a surface that’s clean enough to work on. FFF is an exercise in email etiquette. Meticulously-worded responses to frantic, angry, inquisitive, or downright bizarre emails becomes de rigueur in the days leading up to the event. In this quiet, dark time before anyone else is stirring, Winiecki can conjure the grace to make these responses as eloquent, but commanding, as necessary.
7:00 am: Maureen Egan shuffles to the kitchen and opens her laptop. It’s her turn to jump on the email train, answering no fewer than six emails that have come from either Winiecki or myself, plus another dozen from chefs and team members since she finally closed her eyes around 2:00 that morning.
10:00 am: A chef calls to explain that his restaurant won’t be available for Saturday’s Latin Carnaval on Clay after all. Lo siento, he says. And Maureen goes scrambling to find a replacement with only one week to go.
12:00 pm: Susan, Maureen, and I meet for lunch at the VMFA’s Best Café, where there’s always a table and the Wi-Fi is equally reliable. We synchronize handwritten lists, noting a tinge of pain due to the work that still needs to be done. We confirm an all-team meeting for Sunday, when we will convene at FFF HQ, aka Susan’s garage, over pimento cheese and gluten-free crackers to assign point people for each of the 40 separate events throughout the weekend, hoping to alleviate some of the burden on ourselves.
2:00 pm: A visiting chef, who is by all accounts a “good get,” emails London Ray, a member of our events team, to say that he needs to change his travel arrangements, and can he have an extra hotel room for his sous chef?
3:00 pm: A package arrives at Egan’s house. In it is a 250-pound La Caja China roaster, meant for a whole hog, which will be used for the Gold Cart dinner at The Veil. Until we saw it in person, we were unsure it would arrive at all. The chefs responsible for that dinner already purchased another one because the La Caja China rep was busy battling hurricanes in Florida and hadn’t responded to an email or phone call in weeks.
6:00 pm: Maureen tells her husband, Ed, that she feels like we have this under control, that this year will be different, in a tone that’s practically plucky. Ed, knowing he will be schlepping, cajoling, and wrangling for four straight days, nods solemnly.
10:00 pm: Susan feels her eyelids getting heavy and reluctantly closes up shop, crossing one last item off her 35-point list. She begins dreaming of tomorrow’s 4:00 am list as soon as her head hits the pillow.