Balliceaux & Kampot

Interview by Nicki Stein
Issue 31 • September 2015 • Richmond

Owner Steve Gratz and Executive Chef John Wilson are so excited about the new Southeast Asian menu at Balliceaux that they had to give the project its very own name: Kampot.

Above: Steve Gratz and John Wilson | Photo by Nicki Stein

What was the catalyst behind your decision to close for the summer and rebrand?

Steve Gratz: When we first opened Balliceaux six years ago, we really were not aware of how large our bar business was going to be and how successful the music program would get. I think we built a reputation as being a bit of a bar and it may have diminished the food program. We wanted to be as excited about the food end of it as we were about the music and the bar scene. That kind of restructuring actually takes a lot of work. In fact, we really did start talking about this as far back as November of last year so we would be ready to close and have the time set aside. We’ve had a small crew here all summer working every single day.

How have you re-envisioned the restaurant end of Balliceaux?

SG: Kampot is now the name of the restaurant end of it. Imagine it’s a partnership with a chef that’s coming in and doing his concept with food at Balliceaux. It’s like a permanent food truck. In places like Austin and New Orleans where the bar scene is really big, they’ll bring somebody in freelance to do the food—­that’s basically what we’re doing, except we’re not driving the food truck in here because we already have the kitchen.

It sounds like an increased focus on food is the biggest change we’ll see.

SG: It definitely is. There really wasn’t anything we needed to change with Balliceaux itself because we felt like we were really happy with the bar and music scene. We just needed to do something that stood out with the food that was a little more competitive.

What can you tell me about the food you’ll be serving at Kampot?

John Wilson: All of the flavors and ingredients are Southeast Asian in origin, so a lot of the dishes are Thai, Vietnamese, and Cambodian inspired. The way it’s going to be served is in the style of Spanish tapas. It’s a social style of eating which I think goes well with the bar scene. This style of food is really fresh and ingredient driven. It’s the kind of menu that when you get the food at your table, the ingredients will speak for themselves.

Is there a particular dish that you’re really excited about?

SG: One eccentric dessert that we’re working on the legal logistics of right now: we’re going to do a house-made fortune cookie with a betel leaf cigarette. We were also going to get a cobra rice wine where they have a cobra that’s in the bottle. It’ll be a shot of that with a truffle, the house-made fortune cookie, and the betel leaf cigarette. It’s kind of fun if you want to just throw down at the end of the meal.

Stir-Fried Kai Lan (Chinese Broccoli)

by John Wilson

Ingredients
6-8 stalks kai lan
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 Thai chilis, sliced
½ cup chicken stock
2 tbsp peanut oil
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
Thai thin soy sauce (preferably Healthy Boy brand)

  1. Trim leaves from the kai lan, cut them in half, and set aside. Trim ½ inch from the bottom of each stem and discard. Cut stems into thin slices lengthwise and combine with leaves.
  2. Heat a wok over medium high heat. When hot, add the peanut oil and garlic, followed immediately by the kai lan and chili slices. Season conservatively with soy sauce.
  3. Cook, stirring or tossing constantly, for about 3 minutes.
  4. Add chicken stock and cook for 1 additional minute.
  5. Adjust seasoning with more thin soy sauce to taste. Drizzle with sesame oil and serve.

Balliceaux & Kampot reopens Tuesday, September 1. Get all the details at balliceauxrva.com.

Become a Whurk superfan!
Sweet bonus photos, only $1 per month
Pledge Now Learn More

More Stuff From Issue 31
More Interview Features
Other Recent Stuff