RICHMOND, Va. -- Leah Branch, the executive chef at The Rooseveltin Richmond, Virginia, exudes quiet confidence in the kitchen and the podcast studio.
In both instances, she prefers to let her plates do the talking.
Fortunately, the Chesterfield native was willing to sit down with Scott and Robey to share her story on this episode of Eat It, Virginia!
"I grew up in Chesterfield, that's where I live now. I decided I wanted to go to culinary school. So did that in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I really just stayed in North Carolina for the last 15 years or so. After COVID, I just started to feel like I really wanted to come back and be closer to my family. I actually live next door to my parents now," Branch said. "It's really good after being gone for so long, just being able to just pop over and have coffee. It's really nice."
It is her family that initially inspired Branch to express herself in the kitchen.
"[My family] always, of course, gathered around food. And I just sort of like that idea of feeding people, serving people," she said. "I'm a terribly shy person. So I feel like maybe it's just a way that I can communicate with people a little bit better to kind of speak to them with a plate of something," Branch said.
At the Roosevelt in Richmond, Branch has taken the restaurant's award-winning Southern food into her own, unique direction.
"I've been to the Roosevelt a few times since Leah has been there and it was known for kind of a Southern leaning," Richmond restaurant critic and Eat It, Virginia co-host Robey Martin told Branch during the podcast. "You've taken it in an entirely, it's still Southern, but an entirely different direction. Your expressions with food, I think are, I'm not saying the individuals that were there before you, weren't great, because I love them, but I think you have moved on to some new flavor profiles we're not used to in Richmond. Where does all that come from?"
"I really love Mashama Bailey, of course. Sean Brock. Just eating in Richmond, I think has given me a different view of what I want to communicate with food at the Roosevelt. I never got to eat at the Roosevelt before I worked there. I got to see some menus and we talked about what was really important to keep," Branch said. "We don't mess with [the burger]. We don't mess with the wings, the cornbread. Everything else, we just sort of build around those menu items with things that we feel are elbows on the table food that's got sort of Southern looking direction to it."
As for her favorite dish on Roosevelt's menu — it's the fried catfish.
"It's got butter rice, which is pretty much like a rice kanji, with heavy cream and then it's got tomato gravy, which has some bacon fat," she said. "And then Urfa gloss, which is Urfa pepper, some vinegar, ginger, garlic, some lime. I think it's just got a lot of different textures to play around with, which is my favorite thing in a dish. You can get something like a little softer or something creamy, something crunchy, and something really fresh and kind of mix all those things together."
623 N 25th Street
Richmond, VA 23223
This episode is presented by Duke's Mayo and SUPPER | SUMMER | SOMM.
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