“I’ll take the biscuits and gravy and a latte please. I haven’t eaten until just now.”
“Can I have one of those fried chicken biscuits? Although, sadly, I’ll have to go back to the gym today.”
“I really want the hashbrown casserole, but will take the side of mixed greens.”
Spoken in a hushed whisper or declared loudly to overcompensate, time and time again I hear these explanations when our guests, mostly women, place their orders. The self-loathing continues when the aforementioned menu items arrive at the table. The food runners hear all about the repentance that will be taken after the delicious bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit is consumed.
“Oh wow, how will I eat this entire thing?! I’ll just skip lunch later.”
These words catch my attention. As a chef, I am fascinated by people’s relationship with and perception of food — why they make certain choices, how food makes them feel, how they describe food, how they eat it. I believe food tells a story. Stomping Ground’s story is one about the value of conscious eating. Yes, calories count, but the quality of what we eat will always matter more than how much we eat.
We take great care in how we prepare our food. It is purchased as locally and sustainably as possible so we can trace the origin of each and every ingredient. Our eggs, meats, and vegetables come from farmers I have met personally. These scratch ingredients are then molded by the hands of our kitchen staff, whom we pay living wages. Our food is designed to bring joy and create an experience. It provides fuel. It is made with love. It contains a piece of each and every person at Stomping Ground who played a role in getting it to your table, from the farmer, to the delivery guy, to the cook, to the barista, to the food runner.
Qualifying and justifying whole, real food diminishes that experience.
So, why are we apologizing? Clearly I’m asking rhetorically, but I think it is a question worth asking. If you choose to eat a warm bowl of cheesy heirloom grits topped with chorizo, why destroy the intended comfort of this indulgent dish by obsessing over it? Why have we, as women, created shame in the simple act of enjoying our food? Why has the topic of what we are or are not allowing into our bodies become everyday conversation among women? The verbal self-consciousness is contagious. Every person in earshot, including any young woman in the room, can hear this self-negotiation and inner anxiety. Let’s shift the conversation to one about food quality, and the community that grows around a good meal.
This week, I challenge you. The next time you visit us look your server directly in the eye and order exactly what you want. No explanations. No apologies. No shame. Then, enjoy your dish with positive feelings and gratitude.
Nicole’s cooking style is rooted in, but not limited to, her love of southern biscuits and her diverse culinary upbringing. A military brat, she spent her childhood in the Chicago suburbs enjoying her great-grandmother Mae’s Lithuanian cooking. As a tween, she moved to Paulding County, Ga. where she begrudgingly fell in love with the charmingly perplex small towns of the Deep South. She fondly remembers grubbing on Martin’s biscuits, late-night Waffle House debauchery and cooking with her family.
After graduating from the University of Georgia, Nicole started a marketing career at an art nonprofit in Atlanta. At 25 years old, she became the youngest executive at the local Atlanta NPR affiliate.
Chasing her dreams, she moved to Alexandria, Va. where she took a short post in the Whole Foods marketing department. Realizing that cooking had been her true love all along, she began night courses at L’Academie de Cuisine. She completed her apprenticeship at Blue Duck Tavern where she was promoted to a line cook after graduation. From there, Nicole worked as a private chef for busy Washington D.C. executives and their families.
As grown-ups tend to do, Nicole realized something about her childhood — the best parts were enjoying small town communities, cooking with her great-grandmother and sharing meals with family and friends. She opened Stomping Ground to build a safe and welcoming community around yummy, handmade food from local sources. As her first foray running her own kitchen, she has shamelessly hired better, smarter cooks to fill her kitchen and your bellies. Her great-grandmother’s recipes often appear on the Stomping Ground menu without advertisement and, no, she won’t tell you the secret ingredients.
Nicole lives in Del Ray and won’t shut up about how much she loves living there.
If you wander down Del Ray’s, “The Avenue,” you won’t miss the farm-red building with a rustic fence bordering the patio. Stomping Ground opened two years ago and quickly became popular for its made-from-scratch biscuits and its neighborhood vibe. On weekends, excited guests line up before Stomping Ground opens hoping to be the first to get a just-out-of-the-oven biscuit or a fresh salad. Stomping Ground is mostly known for its fast casual breakfast and lunch but on Thursdays and Fridays they provide a full dinner service after 5:00pm. All meals are built from local, seasonal food that is organic whenever possible.
2309 Mt Vernon Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22301