The Commonwealth of Virginia is full of history. Part of that rich history, is of course, the Virginia ham. Ham was a staple in colonial cuisine. Because cured meat lasts a long period of time and travels well, settlers in the early 1600’s brought pigs with them and sold the meat to other colonies. The most iconic Virginia ham comes from Smithfield, where the ham industry set down its deepest Virginia roots.
There is simply no better way to truly emerge yourself in a history lesson on the Commonwealth of Virginia — its people, culture, and culinary heritage — than through experiencing The Underground Kitchen (UGK). Founded in Richmond, VA in 2013, UGK brings people together through a shared experience of fine dining, community, and a sense of occasion. From the secret location to the undisclosed menu, UGK is all about surprise, delight, and the art of the meal. Not only does UGK offer elegance through multi-course meals, but it also supports the community through its 501(c)(3) organization, UGK Community First.
Founder and CEO, Micheal Sparks has a passion for people, culture, and inclusion, which does not go unnoticed through his work at UGK. Sparks says “experiencing, appreciating, and educating people about food is how we as a company have and will continue changing the lives of individuals every day, meal by meal.” Sparks remembers his grandfather using pork in a lot of his cooking in South Carolina growing up. He especially remembers his grandfather making sure not to waste any part of the hog when cooking. Sparks also mentions that the chefs at UGK continue to use techniques much like his grandfather did by using parts of the pig that would normally be tossed out in your everyday home kitchen; for example, bringing rich new flavors to a dish by making a hoof broth.
The team at The Underground Kitchen celebrates and features pork as much as it can. For UGK events for more than 75 guests, Micheal and his team source pork products from larger producer companies such as Smithfield. For groups fewer than 75 guests, it is important to Micheal and his team to support local, independent producers who provide quality heritage pigs. While pork is enjoyed by all Virginians, Sparks says, “Pork is a major staple of people of color’s food and cooking, which is prepared and brought to the table by UGK’s chefs, who come from a diverse range of race, ethnicities, cultures, genders, and backgrounds.” Much like independent and contracted pork producers across the U.S. and in Virginia, sustainability is an important principle for UGK. Its talented chefs honor the rich history of the Commonwealth sustainably with the land and waters that the great Commonwealth has to offer.
As Americans and Virginians, we hear about history and read about it in textbooks growing up, but through the Underground Kitchen experience, you step back in time and TASTE history.
To learn more about The Underground Kitchen and UGK Community First be sure to check them out online and watch videos below!