Arlington, VA - The dominant artwork in Robert Joppa’s apartment is a world map marked by pins with where he must go and where he’s been.
Peru, Kenya, South Africa? Check.
Antarctica, China, New Zealand? Not yet.
So it is notable that surrounded by travel books and carefully curated souvenirs from African markets, the dinner is traditionally American and local.
My host is solidly anchored to a genealogy he can track back to European shoemaker ancestors, but his culinary tastes skew to carefully prepared comfort dishes made with the freshest of local ingredients.
“We can trace back to 1604,” says Robert, who has found lost Luxembourg relatives and visited ancestral towns in Germany and Norway.
We begin with a rich bean soup with pasture-raised kosher chicken from an organic Amish farm and a turkey-stock base made in November from the carcasses of the birds that fed the homeless at a Washington, DC church dinner.
One of the advantages of Robert’s job as operations and marketing manager for KOL Foods is access to an industrial freezer in Pennsylvania where he can store gallons of stock for the year. The other is his access to his company’s storied kosher beef, lamb and poultry, which is all organic and pasture fed. It is, he says, the only nationally available source for grass-fed or pasture-raised kosher meat in the US.
We move on to more comfort food, green peppers stuffed with rice and grass-fed beef from another Pennsylvania organic farm.
“When I was a kid I loved, loved, loved the Frugal Gourmet. This was one of his recipes. My grandma and I used to make this all the time,” he says, noting that his favorite chef’s career ended badly. “I usually make this for myself and I have it for twelve days.
Now, don’t go thinking that this dinner is without spice. It’s supplied tonight by the host himself and the five handsome guests, one of whom I’ve seen in a red flapper dress and saucy red pumps. I’m seldom surprised anymore by my friend David Lippe, who balances a serious career with a giddy love of sequin and double entendres.
But Robert is the guy who can hang on to his dignity, even on an AIDS ride Red Day clad in droopy red Dr. Johns. I have pictures.
He has a wry humor that slips under the radar. There was the time the solitude got to be a bit much years ago when he served in the Peace Corps in rural Zimbabwe and he found himself having solitary conversations with himself while village girls with crushes spied on him from the bushes and giggled at him as teenagers do. It’s enough to drive a young American to play some word games for his own entertainment.
He adopted a big white rooster, which he could tuck beneath his arm and carry around the village.
“Oh Mr. Robert, it’s a very fine cock,” the villagers said.
He nails the clipped British accent and deadpans through a series of exchanges about the errant bird, who made enough public appearances to keep the joke fresh for months.
By now we’ve finished three warm baguettes our host made the night before, we’re just a little silly from a little wine, and we’ve had a salad of beet greens and local hydroponic butter lettuce with diced local apples from the evening farmer’s market by the Clarendon metro stop. In a place where even the First Lady has her own Farmer’s Market you can source regional food after work every day of the week.
“This is a treat for a Tuesday night,” says Kevin Morris, a noticeably trimmed-down friend who is noticeably not matching us on butter and whipped cream consumption. “I would be eating cereal. I’m doing Weight Watchers.”
The pears that have been simmering in a sweet berry sauce bear the one touch of exotic, a bath of Batavia-Arrack Van Oosten liqueur from a recipe Robert found on a trip to Sweden. Our desserts are served in white bowls. Robert dishes his into a faded cereal bowl he’s had since childhood with an image of Count Dracula from Sesame Street.
We’ve polished off the one very non-green item, an aerosol can of whipped cream. There is another in the fridge.
“Martha Stewart says “never be afraid of quantity,’” he says to cheers.
“Says the man with the big white cock,” David says.