In Werowocomoco, Francis Ford Coppola Creates a Journey Into American Native Food, and the Legends of Virginia Dare
Werowocomoco is the place if you want to try out an amazing fry bread-and-bison taco. It's a place to enjoy native wild rice, or wild-caught salmon roasted over a wood fire. It's an outstanding restaurant.
For creative director of VentanaLatina, Evelina Molina and for the editorial staff of ElGuardian.us (Spanish-language News) it was also a journey in history.
In Werowocomoco, award-winning visual storyteller Francis Ford Coppola invites guests to take a visit into colonial mythic history, while we savor aromas from the wood fire, enjoy Native American songs and chants, and take sustenance from an impressive menu of American Native Foods.
The restaurant is located at Virginia Dare Winery in Geyserville. In an interview in SF Gate, Coppola said he was led to “resurrect this early American wine brand which was one of the first in the U.S.A.”
16th Century historical records show that Virginia Dare was the first child born to European parents in the Western Hemisphere.
This launched the famed screenplay writer and director headlong into researching “the fascinating story of the birth of the first Anglo child in the New World, the disappearance of the Lost Colony, and the power of the consolidated Algonquin tribes under the great chief Powhatan and his brother Opechancanough, in Werowocomoco, Virginia.”
During this spell of research, Coppola discovered a rare edition of the 180-year old set of books, “History of the Indian Tribes of North America,” published by Thomas L. McKenney and James Hall and richly illustrated with painted portraits of Native American chiefs and warriors of many tribes.
"When our crew entered the restaurant, we found those portraits also lining the walls where we dined, providing a glimpse into the first American
There is also a Kachina doll overseeing the room, and a skin depicting a hunting scene, mounted on another wall. You can also hear tribal American songs and chants, floating softly throughout the establishment. It becomes clear that a major effort has been made to show respect for America's native roots. The sounds, the aromas, and the visuals create a world.
Francis Ford Coppola is a director who puts grit and faith into his vision. He has made not only his own films, but also his own luck. He dives out of the box, into the world of “never been done before”, leaving audiences spellbound. If he can envision it, he has no fear of giving it the green light. This new venture, Werowocomoco, is no exception. As he wrote for the SF Chronicle,
“I confess that I used my own imagination and creative powers to bring this project to life, much in the way that I would have in making a film.”
The restaurant's menu, he has pointed out, is the result of collaboration and taste testing with Native American families, as well as chefs in the world of indigenous cuisine. To assure authenticity going forward, as well as respect for traditions, Coppola formed a council of Native American tribal advisers. He also asks their input to address “important issues of health, youth and education, employment, preservation of language and culture, food and ingredient acquisition, and art.” The restaurant is actively cultivating Native American contacts in California , with the aim of representing local culture and food traditions.
I sat down with Samuel Moonitz, who works closely on Werowocomoco’s menu with chef/owner Francis Coppola, to talk about the ingredients – and the stories behind the ingredients – that make up the menu.
A few highlights tell a lot. The rice, for example, is not just any rice – it's river hulled, canoe-harvested wild rice, purchased from the White Plains reservation, in the Great Lakes area. The salmon comes from the Yurok tribe on the Klamath River reservation.
“These foods were native to the Americas before America even started,” said the chef. “We are offering them here so that traditional foods don't get lost.”
The bison are actually born and raised near Ukiah, in Mendocino County. Toward the end of the raising process, the herd is sent to range feed in either Colorado or Wyoming, along with some grain feeding, to improve the flavor. Due to the sustainable bison ranching that’s been taking place in the past few years, “we're seeing some big herds now, up in Wyoming and Colorado.”
Rounding out the menu, the vegetables and chicken come from some local purveyors, and Moonitz said they are looking for a local source or tribe for beans (right now they're sourced from an organic farm in the Sierras). And of course there is fry bread, “which is a widely known and popular food which comes from Native American culture,” said Moonitz. “We’ve seen it at the local farmer's market, and it would be great if we could source this from a local tribe”
And how could we leave out the wine maker's touch?
“With our location as part of a winery,” Moonitz smiled, “you get to enjoy a hearty meal with a great glass of Virginia Dare wine.”
Opening a restaurant venture in the off-season may seem like a risky approach, but Moonitz explained that it provides some extra development time before the busy season. “This way we have the opportunity to try things with the menu,” he said, “and source the ingredients from local tribes.”
The dining area of Werowocomoco opens on to the tasting room of Virginia Dare Winery. Historic artifacts from the early days of the original old winery of the same name, accent the walls and abundant book shelves at one end of the room.
The Virginia Dare Winery tasting room provides a fitting punctuation for the multi-sensory journey that is Werowocomoco."
At the tasting bar, the flight ranges from the fruity White Doe (Chenin Blanc/Veongier blend), to the Lost Colony (an innovatie Syrah/Malbec/Petite Sirah/Petit Verdot blend), and some Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in between.
If you visit Francis Ford Coppola Winery, also in the town of Geyserville, it's easy to get a strong feeling the director had recreated a little piece of Hollywood (one can even imagine the iconic Hollywood sign on the mountain across Alexander Valley, overlooking the town's famous geysers).