Richard Arbaugh is the executive chef South Hills Market and Café in Charleston, West Virginia, which he co-owns with his wife. Richard, a native of Chatham, Virginia, has been cooking as long as he can remember, and using the many unique ingredients found in Appalachia. Today, he pairs the knowledge of local ingredients he gained as a child with his classical training.
How would you describe your cooking style?
I would consider my style of cooking what I call “Modern Appalachia”. I was classically trained in French, Asian, and Mediterranean fare. I try to incorporate a bit of that in all my dishes. You might have a beautiful blue fin tuna with local mushrooms, pork belly pot stickers, and the preserved fiddleheads we have from Charleston. I believe my style is something that will always evolve, but will always add just a bit of West Virginia to each dish. I’ll always continue to use local products as well as techniques local to the area, like curing and preserving. These are subtle, but necessary to preserve not just culture in West Virginia, but Appalachian culture more broadly.
What are your favorite “wild” ingredients that you love to work with?
Some of the greatest local ingredients are foraged mushrooms of all varieties: chanterelles, morels, shiitakes, and hen of the woods, to name a few. Every spring we love when we are able to showcase ramps in our modern interpretations. My favorite ingredient would have to be Jerusalem figs that my father-in-law grows and harvests every year. I love having the ability to use a local ingredient in a dish in a way a customer might have never expected.
How do you think growing up in West Virginia and Virginia influenced your cooking style?
I believe growing up on the southern Virginia border and summers spent in West Virginia in my formative years offered great inspiration to the development of my style as a chef. I remember going to the corner markets and finding pickled foods like eggs, pig knuckles, and fried pickles. It also helped me discover that food translates to hospitality and comfort.
The menu at South Hills Market features many dishes with international flair. How do you keep a West Virginia spin on these dishes?
I grew up learning traditional Appalachian cooking techniques, and then in culinary school was classically trained in a number of international techniques. I’m as comfortable making tournedos Rossini as I am making Chicken and Dumplings. I’m always interested in preparing ingredients using new techniques that will enhance quality and surprise our guests’ palates while still preserving the integrity of the dish. I want guests to sit in my dining room and experience my interpretation of a dish while still remembering the way their grandmothers prepared it. I don’t want local ingredients to be totally unrecognizable.