As Charlottesville’s food truck scene becomes increasingly crowded with more chefs taking to the streets, Whitney Matthews understands it’s important for her menu to stand out.
Matthews, chef and owner of the SpiceSea Gourmet food truck, is hoping that her hard work, high-quality ingredients, and unique menu dedicated almost exclusively to made-to-order seafood will catch on.
“I’m just hoping Charlottesville will welcome me with open arms,” said Matthews, who rolled onto Charlottesville’s food truck scene at the end of May.
The 30-year-old chef, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 2009, shouldn’t have a hard time finding success in Charlottesville after making waves in San Antonio’s food truck scene for three years. SpiceSea Gourmet, which was named Best Food Truck and Best Seafood in San Antonio in back-to-back years by San Antonio Magazine, has also been featured on The Cooking Channel’s “Eat St.” program.
Matthews, named one of San Antonio’s rising chefs in 2014, said she enjoyed her time in South Texas but was homesick for Virginia.
“I just decided that it was time to come home,” said Matthews, who grew up less than two hours away from Charlottesville in the small town of Flint Hill.
Matthews said she missed the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay. The influence of the latter is evident in SpiceSea’s menu.
The Virginia crab cakes feature lump crab meat, with no filler, over mixed greens, tomatoes and sugar snap peas topped with Sriracha aioli. There’s also a shrimp and blackberry salad.
The seafood sandwiches include delicious shrimp and catfish po’boys, each topped with lettuce, tomatoes and spicy mayo on a hoagie roll. The lobster and shrimp po’boy features sautéed lobster and shrimp topped with spicy lemon butter and lettuce on a hoagie roll.
SpiceSea’s fried lobster mac & cheese is as good as it sounds with patrons’ palates tasting the reward of the tedious preparation. Matthews also hand cuts the sweet potato fries.
While Matthews’ love of food and culinary training is evident in SpiceSea’s menu and preparation, she credits a lot of her success to the Virginia Military Institute.
“I’m very proud of my VMI background,” said Matthews, a 2007 VMI graduate. “I think it helped me a lot in this industry.”
Matthews said her education and experience at VMI, where the vast majority of cadets are men, helped her prepare for the male-dominated food truck and restaurant scene.
“I don’t know that I would’ve had a voice without it,” she said.
With Matthews’ love of VMI and Virginia drawing her out of Texas, it appears that San Antonio’s loss is now Charlottesville’s gain.