Inside the Kitchen with Chef Rachel FitzGerald of Magpie Diner

No matter which region you’re in, Virginia has an impressive culinary scene, with dozens of notable chefs creating inspired dishes from locally sourced ingredients that bring the best flavors of the Commonwealth together in uniquely delicious ways. To shine a spotlight on the best eats in Virginia, we talked with a few of these chefs, from the award-winning seasoned professionals to the rising stars that have garnered attention in national and even international publications. Follow our “Inside the Kitchen” series as we take a look at all there is to Eat.Drink.LOVE in Virginia!

With its rich soil and lush landscapes, the Shenandoah Valley has always been an agricultural hub, supporting dairy farms, apple orchards, and fresh produce centers. This has led to the region drawing some excellent farm-to-table restaurants to the food scene, and one of these incredible restaurants is Magpie Diner, a new foodie haven in Harrisonburg, Virginia. This full-service breakfast and lunch spot serves a modern diner-inspired menu, but unlike a real greasy-spoon diner, you won’t find burnt coffee or cheap ingredients at Magpie Diner. The restaurant instead opts for local and fresh; the coffee is sourced from Harrisonburg’s Chestnut Ridge Coffee Roasters, their breads and pastries are made daily in their in-house bakery, and their menu always makes use of the current seasonal offerings found in Virginia. 

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Photo Credit: Amelia Schmid

At the helm at Magpie Diner is Chef Rachel FitzGerald, a self-taught cook that worked in restaurants to pay her way through college and grad school. After grad school, she bounced back and forth between teaching and cooking for nearly a decade, working jobs in both sectors in the Richmond and Nashville, Tennessee areas. She finally made her way to the Shenandoah Valley, where she met the now-owner of Magpie Diner, Kirsten Moore. Together, the creativity and inspired culinary practices of these two extraordinary women have combined to bring one of Harrisonburg’s favorite local spots to fruition.

Want to know more about Magpie Diner and Chef FitzGerald? Read on to learn about some of her chef secrets followed by one of Chef FitzGerald’s favorite recipes!

Do you have a few go-to producers, farms, or other purveyors you prefer to get your local ingredients from?

We’re big fans of Baker’s Pork up the road in Mt. Jackson, Virginia. We use their subtly spicy breakfast sausage to make our sausage gravy, along with local milk from Mt. Crawford Creamery. It’s amazing how just a few quality ingredients can create such a singular, yet nostalgic taste.

What are your favorite Virginia flavors?

Fall is my favorite season, and I think it’s mainly from my fond food memories of childhood. Maple syrup from Highland County. Gingerbread from Colonial Williamsburg. My neighbors yearly apple butter party- boiling down cider, apples, cinnamon for hours over a roaring woodfire. 

What is your favorite thing to cook for yourself?

Sadly, cooking for myself doesn’t happen too much these days. When it does, I make pasta. Specifically, lazy lemon pasta, which takes 10 minutes flat. I drain cooked pasta, make a sauce with the pasta water, lemon zest and juice, ricotta, parm, and red pepper flakes. Throw the noodles back in, add a handful of arugula, and chow down. 

What Virginia wine, craft beer, cider, or cocktail would you pair with that?

I usually like sipping a glass of dry white wine when I cook at home, but recently I’ve been enjoying the hard ciders from our new neighbors, Sage Bird. I love their Hip Hop- dry, crisp, not overly sweet…perfect for wine or beer people who didn’t know they like cider.

What is your favorite vacation spot in Virginia?

I’m spoiled because I’ve set up homebase in the ultimate Virginia vacation spot: the Shenandoah Valley. If ever I have a few days off, I like to pop down to my old quasi-hometown, Richmond. I’ve lived in a couple big cities that pride themselves on being “foodie” destinations, but I think good ol’ Richmond has one of the best food scenes in the country without being overly precious or pretentious. 

Chef Recipe Spotlight: Apple Bacon Cheddar Sandwich

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Photo Credit: Amelia Schmid

“We knew we needed to come up with a replacement for our classic BLT once peak-tomato season ended. This sandwich has been a suprise top seller on our lunch menu. The meat and the green can be swapped out with whatever you have on hand. What makes the flavor of this sandwich unique is the interplay of the tart-sweet apples with the herby savoriness of the Onion Thyme Jam.”

-Chef FitzGerald

Sandwich Ingredients

2 slices white bread, Milk Bread, Brioche, or Challah  

3 slices bacon, cooked

Arugula

1 Honeycrisp or Fuji Apple, thinly sliced 

Onion-Thyme Jam* see recipe

Dijonnaise* see recipe  

Onion Thyme Jam Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil 

12 onions, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

Salt and ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Add the onions, mustard seed, brown sugar, vinegar and thyme to a saucepan. Cover and cook on low for 15 or 20 minutes.
  2. Remove the top, stir and partially cover the pot. Cook until liquid is almost gone and the onions, 60 to 70 min. Let cook and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Dijonnaise Ingredients

1/4 cup Grainy Dijon Mustard

1/4 cup Mayonnaise (preferably Duke’s)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Directions

  1. Mix ingredients together and store in the refrigerator up to a week.

Sandwich Assembly

  1. Toast bread and slather 1 slice with a tablespoon of Dijonnaise and the other slice with a tablespoon the Onion Jam. 
  2. Put 3 slices of bacon on top of the Onion Jam-ed bread, a slice of Sharp Cheddar, and melt under an oven broiler. 
  3. Pile arugula on top of the Dijonnaise bread and slices of apple. Bring the 2 toasts together to complete the sandwich.

Want more incredibly tasty recipes from Virginia’s top chefs? Stay tuned for more In the Kitchen articles and check out these other articles in the chef series:

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