I was both honored and thrilled to receive an invitation from Virginia Tourism Corporation and the 2019 Commemoration/American Evolution to attend the third annual John Dabney Dinner, an event honoring Dabney’s legacy during the Fire, Flour & Fork regional food celebration in Richmond last month.
Prior to being invited to the Dabney Dinner, I had never heard of John Dabney. He was born in 1824 in Hanover Junction. Dabney began acquiring a reputation as a renowned Richmond-based caterer through much of the nineteenth century, honing his skills while enslaved and is also known for serving one of his famed mint juleps to the future Edward VII during the prince’s 1860 visit to America.
He was in the process of purchasing his own freedom when the American Civil War and slavery ended. Known for his integrity, he could secure credit from banks, which he and his wife used to purchase several properties and open a restaurant.
“The Hail-Storm: John Dabney in Virginia,” is a fascinating 23-minute documentary by filmmakers Field Studio, that premiered during the dinner. It was a compelling look into the remarkable life of one of the first black entrepreneurs in America when diversity in business ownership wasn’t exactly celebrated.
The dinner was held at Danny’s own church, First African Baptist and featured guests Michael Hall of Spoonbread Bistro, Velma Johnson of Mama J’s, Neverett Eggleston III of Delancey’s, Michael Twitty, author of “The Cooking Gene”. I was so inspired by everyone I met during the dinner, especially Mr. Dabney’s descendants.
Fire, Flour & Fork is a four-day gathering for the food curious. Held every November in Richmond, Virginia, it celebrates the best Richmond Virginia has to offer: its complex history, its rich artistic community and its established and rising culinary stars. I am already day-dreaming about next year’s event!