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A long the shorelines of Virginia’s tributaries that lead to the Chesapeake Bay, there exist waterways home to an expansive ecosystem of life teeming with the freshest seafood imaginable. As a young boy, Capra remembers always being surrounded by good food—a luxury he admittedly took for granted. “I grew up in the southern part of Virginia. Sweet potatoes were in everything, not to mention collard greens and Smithf ield ham. Being so close to the Chesapeake Bay, I became hooked on blue crabs, crab soup, and fried clams. I would go f ishing with my dad and we would catch mostly bluefish, spot fish, and f lounder. I used to dream about fried spot [fish]—I haven’t had that in 30 years! ” recounts Capra, as he nostalgically thinks back to his childhood in which nearly every meal was accompanied with a version of the day’s catch. Capra is a self-professed “vegetar ian meat eater”—if such a label exists. “I believe that the ‘sides’ on a plate are much more than that. In order to achieve a balanced dish, ever ything on it must be deliberate and important.” Given the artistry involved in the plating of a dish, it comes as no surprise that Capra has always immersed himself in the arts; he attended the prestigious Governor’s Magnet School for the Arts, a hub for innovation and creativity, where the young Capra studied Visual Arts and became a musician. By the time he turned 19 years of age, he set out to New Orleans, where he gained a firsthand understanding into the culinary world of restaurant chefs. His first stint bussing tables at a high-end restaurant quick ly made him real ize that the only way to actually “study” the f ine dining scene was to go out to eat the food himself. He did that, albeit a bit more than he had originally intended. “After I had been [at the restaurant] for about a month, the chef got fired, the third one in three months. The new chef, who was about a year older than myself, was quickly overwhelmed, so I volunteered to move into the kitchen. From there, I kept my eyes open and wrote everything down ,” he note s. Capr a cont i nued to ref i ne h i s a r t by work ing under the tutelage of cul inar y giants such as New Orlea ns’ ver y own Chefs Gera rd Ma ras a nd Susa n Spicer,
before relocating to Washington, D.C. to work at Chef Greg Hill’s former restaurant, New Heights. There, he witnessed the tireless work ethic characteristic of so many great chefs. Since then, it has taken years for Capra to develop his personal culinary style, which he continues to refine to this day. He will be the first to tell you that he owes much of his success to his predecessors. “You have to be willing to admit that you have been inf luenced by many [who came ] before you. You also need a heavy helping of humility,” he professes. During his time in New Orleans, he was instrumental in opening a specialty store in town that happened to have an on-site demo k itchen. “I got to support [ Chef ] R ick Bayless one n ight. I thought he was a gem of a guy. He was educated, well spoken, and his Mexican food was like nothing I had ever tasted. I also used to ‘ooh and aah’ over a Charlie Trotter cookbook. I was blown away by his plating and found it to be a true art [form]. The biggest game changer was when [Chef ] Thomas Keller’s French Laundry cookbook came out; I realized right away that I was just a guppy and I had a lot to learn,” admits Capra. “Recently, the biggest impact for me would be Chef Tyler Florence. I’ve had the pleasure of partnering with him on a dozen or so events, and watching his creative process is really unbelievable.” Capra is a self-professed “vegetarian meat eater”—if such a label exists. “I believe that the ‘sides’ on a plate are much more than that. In order to achieve a balanced dish, everything on it must be deliberate and important,” notes Capra. “When I am writing a menu, I begin with the fruits and vegetables. I plan each course around those ingredients and build from t here by add i ng complement a r y f lavors a nd text u res,” he expla i ns. Despite h is focus on prepa r i ng hea lt h ier d ishes, Capra does have a weakness for ingredients from the other end of the health spectrum. “I won’t shy away from butter, duck fat, or lard,” he confesses. Wh i le f lavor wi l l always trump presentat ion in h is k itchen, many wou ld ag ree t hat Capra’s distinction is that his plating does not appear to suffer one bit. “If it doesn’t taste good, you’re not fooling anybody. But at the same time, people eat with their eyes first, so it’s all part of the experience,” he emphasizes, thinking back to the moments he l iterally sal ivated over picture-heav y cookbooks unt il he experimented with certain recipes and realized that the taste did not measure up to the seemingly f lawless presentation.
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