Master Chef Paul Elbling

Chef Paul medals

Paul Elbling was born August 1940 in Alsace, France. In 1953 Paul started a three year apprenticeship, after which he began getting practical experience by working in several well known places including the Summer Season at the famous Carlton Hotel in Cannes, France. From September 1959 through August 1962, Elbling was in the French Army during the Algerian War. In 1962 he became Chef at the DAS ALTEN GOLDEN KREUTZ in the posh resort city of Baden-Baden, Germany. In 1964 Chef Paul received his European Master Chef Degree. Paul married in France and came to the United States in 1967 where he served as Chef in the Restaurant Chez Francois in Washington, D.C. Later he served as Executive Chef in the Washington Hotel until 1970 when Chef Paul moved to Richmond, Virginia, where he was owner and Executive Chef of La Petite France. Assisting Chef Paul in the kitchen is his culinary team from the Knights of Columbus, a group of dedicated volunteers he has trained throughout the years in his style of cooking authentic French cuisine. Chef Paul has been with the French Food Festival from the very beginning in 2009.

2019 Festival Chefs

***Master Chef Paul Elbling has been with the RVA French Food Festival since the beginning, and his dishes are a staple of the event, developing a loyal following that return year after year. As the festival continued to grow over the years, other Chefs from around the Richmond area have joined our French Food Festival family to serve up some fantastic dishes based in classical French cuisine.

Chef Michael McClure

Mike M photo

Chef Michael McClure began cooking in Baltimore in 1984, and learned classical technique at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC. Over the last three decades he has worked in many fine restaurants and hotels, including Bistro Bobette, Chez Max, La Grotta, and of course Balliceaux, where he was when he first joined our team last year. Chef Michael made the move to Shockoe Bottom where he is Executive Chef at Lulu’s, where you can see lines out the door on the weekends as eager masses make their way in for their famous brunch. Chef Michael has been with the RVA French Food Festival since 2015, and has graciously offered his services for the Little Sister’s booth at the International Food Festival in previous year’s as well. We are so glad to have him back for our 10th Anniversary!

Chef Mike Ledesma

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In 2000, Mike Ledesma’s career shifted from desk to kitchen after securing a financial advisor position in Oahu, 5,000 miles away from his Baltimore home. He unexpectedly found his passion for cooking in Hawaii and enrolled in culinary school where he graduated class valedictorian. As the son of Filipino immigrants, Ledesma grew up around food. Now, as he masters New American cuisine, he plans to also showcase his cultural heritage through dishes such as pork barbecue with homemade marinades and the classic Filipino spring rolls called lumpia. Ledesma pulls inspiration from culinary travels from Hawaii back to the East Coast. After a stint as sous chef for “Iron Chef” Roy Yamaguchi, he moved to West Virginia’s Greenbrier Resort. He returned to Maryland to work the kitchens of Roy’s, a Yamaguchi restaurant, and Woodberry Kitchen. Following a move to Richmond, Ledesma landed his first assignment opening The Hard Shell’s second location in 2011. Two years later, he opened the Belgian-inspired gastropub, Max’s on Broad. Next, after leading a menu relaunch at Patina, he earned the restaurant acclaim as one of the city’s top 10 dining establishments in Richmond Magazine. In 2015, he made a return to The Hard Shell’s parent company, Richmond Restaurant Group, as corporate chef. There, he led operations, managed menu development, and trained the culinary teams of each restaurant. His first restaurant, Perch, opens in May 2018. Chef Mike first volunteered his talents at the French Food Festival in 2015.

Chef Sean Murphy

Chef Sean Murphy, a native of Richmond and graduate of Benedictine, has spent the last decade fine tuning his culinary palate and creativity, leading to the successful opening of fan favorites F.W. Sullivan’s in 2009 and Lady N’awlins in 2011. Sean began his culinary career from the ground up at the prestigious four diamond AAA rated The Fox Head Inn in Manakin Sabot, with his fundamental Chef training in classic French cuisine. Sean has been recognized as one of Richmond’s top three Chefs by Style Weekly’s annual “Best & Worst” editions in 2011 and 2012. His restaurants were also recognized in several top three ranking categories, “Best Undiscovered Restaurant,” “Best Overall Bar,” and “Best Bar Food,” to name a few. Sean has been with the French Food Festival since 2011.

Chef Benjamin Jackson

From a young age, Benjamin Jackson knew he wanted to experience the world through music and food.  He loved the hands on aspect of creating and the focus that came with creating was something he could do anywhere in the world.  He found cooking to be the more lucrative and practical form of the two- and a career was born.  He considers food to be the universal language and his food tells a story of Virginia.  Born and raised in Charlottesville, he received a culinary certification from CATEC in 2013, and moved to Richmond to pursue his career. You can find him on his nights off enjoying the company of his longtime girlfriend Jenna and hanging with their cat Sir Jack.  If he’s not at his Southside home, you’ll find him out at a local restaurant, as he says “You’ve got to keep up with everything.”  As the newly appointed Chef of Little Saint, a localvore haven, the trick might just be keeping up with him.

Chef William Erlenbach

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A native of Indiana, Chef Erlenbach developed a passion for the Culinary Arts at a young age while working at a true farm to table restaurant and a butcher shop.  He attended Johnson and Wales University where he studied Culinary Arts and Culinary Education.  He has manned the stoves in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Richmond.  Chef Erlenbach has served as Executive Chef for in Fine Dining Restaurants, Large scale Catering Operations, Exclusive Inn’s, Large and Small Hotels as well as Restaurant Groups. Chef Erlenbach has specialized in opening, re-launching and consulting during his tenure.  Chef Erlenbach has also served as Chef and Wine dinner Expert for numerous wineries throughout Maryland and Virginia.  Chef Erlenbach has served as Executive Chef for US Open and US Senior opens.  He has competed and earned medals in International Culinary Competitions including the Culinary Olympics and Hotel Olympia.  Chef Erlenbach is currently the Associate Director of School of Culinary and Hospitality for Stratford University’s Glen Allen Campus.  His other interests include food science, fostering local sustainable cuisine, bee keeping and heritage cuisine.

Chef Omar Gonzales

After emigrating from Mexico in 2004, Omar found his first position in a professional kitchen at California Pizza Kitchen- and his passion for cooking was sparked.  He cooks everything from pizzas to steaks in his professional kitchens but at home he truly loves to make the food from his native country, especially flautas.  “They just remind me of home,” he says.  First as sous chef and now chef, he’s participated in numerous charity events at Tarrant’s West including Richmond Restaurant Week, Camp Comfort Zone Wine Dinner, Massey Alliance’s brunch weekend and is excited to participate in the French Food Festival for the first time.  In his spare time, you may find him playing soccer, listening to music or watching tv.  He lives and works with his wife Revecca, stepson Edwin and their family dog Roco.

Chef Lucky Abimbola

With over a decade in the restaurant business, three associates and one bachelors degree from Johnson and Wales and voted “most creative”- she quickly rose the ranks in RVA Hospitality to include Sous Chef of Little Saint, Pastry Chef at Max’s on Broad, and now Chef de Cuisine in charge of pastries, brunch and dessert a the brigade system at Bar Soltia.  With two sisters in the medical field, Lucky knew early on that she would find a different path to success.  Originally from Nigeria, she loves to eat food from her home county because it reminds her of her mother- but when it comes to cooking for others, she loves the food of the south where she spent her formative years.  Growing up in South Carolina the smoke, Cajun, spices and the depth of flavour excited and impressed her and continues to inspire her works.  On her days off, she reads cookbooks or plays with her two snakes: Espen and Cher.

Chef David Clack

As a child David loved to cook with his mother for his three siblings: classic staples like spaghetti, pancakes, eggs, omelettes, fried chicken were staples of their dining room table.  As an adult, he continued that love of family style meals with a passion for one bowl meals- pasta bakes, stuffed chickens and large meals to feed many; but for himself, he enjoys a good salad.  The simplicity of cold vegetables and hot grilled meats put together in perfect harmony for a healthy body.   Ask his staff about him and they say he’s “crazy passionate” and a hard worker who truly cares.  He carries that care into his charitable works having partnered with the Heidi Fund and CORE- both for families of restaurant workers.  On his time off, you can find him illustrating children’s novels for local authors.  “They are cartoony- Disney-like” he says of his current drawings for his latest book: “I am Ghana,” on bookshelves soon.  When he gets the time, he also enjoys video games like Fortnight, watching cartoon network, and TV shows like Game of Thrones. Originally from Baltimore, he now resides in Richmond, VA, with his wife Avis and, reluctantly, his wife’s cat Cairo.

Chef Alex Enggist

Alex Enggist is the Executive Chef of the RVA Hospitality Group in Richmond, Virginia.  His latest restaurant, Little Saint, garnered local media attention with a surprise Elby nomination for “Best New Restaurant” only two months after opening. This was followed by the Richmond Times-Dispatch calling Enggist’s food a “promising new addition to Richmond’s culinary scene” and stating they “can’t wait” to return.  Although it is Enggist’s “New Virginia” cuisine at Little Saint earning him press and accolades, he is most proud of his classic Swiss and French culinary skills. He plans to showcase his love of classic cuisine as he rebrands the 5-year-old Max’s on Broad with an unveiling this spring. This new menu will focus on technique, elegance, and passion at the heart of classic French cooking with an emphasis on local meats, produce & cheeses as well as sustainable seafood from the Chesapeake. 

Alex first learned the relationship of cooking and fresh produce as a child when his father—Certified Swiss Master Chef and long-time Executive Chef of the Commonwealth Club, Heinz Enggist—released a live chicken into an unoccupied dining room, and taught Alex how to catch, butcher and cook the animal.  Alex credits his work ethic and skill set from the years of rigorous training from his chef/father that labor laws would not have allowed a at his age.  Alex didn’t plan to be a chef; he just wanted to spend time with his dad.  Though his father passed away before he became an Executive Chef of not one, but two restaurants (at the age of thirty), Alex still strives to meet Chef Heinz’s strict standards.

Enggist credits his former positions as sous chef at the Daily Kitchen and Bar, the Southern Railway Taphouse, and even The Sports Page as influencing his current cooking style.  Alex takes pride in his cooking no matter the dish or guest.  While some chefs want to make fancy food for themselves, instagram, or their peers, Alex wants to make every item amazing and delicious no matter if it’s a torchon of foie gras or Southern fried chicken.

Some of his main charitable contributions raise awareness and bring fresh food to underserviced populations, like the Fulton Hill Resource Center and the Richmond Food Bank.  This year he’s scheduled to add a progressive fundraising dinner for Stop Child Abuse Now and a weekend long fundraiser for the Massey Cancer Center.

When Alex isn’t working or guest chef-ing to raise money for charity, he enjoys playing pool, dining out, visiting Harry Potter World, reading a good book or spending time with his awesome wife Susana and their cat Smudge at their south side home.

Chef Michael Hall

Chef Michael Hall (The Vine, M Bistro and Wine Bar) brings his unique blend of Southern cuisine with French finishings to Spoonbread Bistro & Spoonbread Bistro Deux. Part of a renaissance for the Church Hill native, the restaurant has quickly become one of Richmond’s most highly-rated destinations for locals in Richmond’s Historic Fan neighborhood and for those throughout the Richmond region The concept of Spoonbread was developed by Chef Michael Hall from his love of Southern cuisine.  Chef Hall has fond memories of his grandmother, mother, and aunts cooking spoonbread.  For this reason, for Chef Hall Spoonbread means comfort, love, and family.  His vision for the restaurant marries elevated cuisine with his southern comfort food background. Chef Hall is the recipient of numerous Culinary Awards for superior creation including First Place prize in the culinary Competition Mushroom and Wine Festival 96’ and 97’. A Four Star review was received in 95’ and 96’ from the Richmond Times Dispatch for his work at None Such Place. Richmond Magazine awarded Chef Hall in 02’ for “Most Creative Dish”, 03’,04 ,08, 09 for “Dish of the Year” and once again in November 8, of 09 ’ was again one of the winners for “Dish of the Year” competition. In 2006 Chef Hall was selected as a finalist in the Channel 8 “Desperate Housewives” competition, the March of Dimes “Dish of the Year” and “Outstanding Presentation.” Hall has received many other awards and accomplishments in between, maintaining the AAA Four Diamond Award from 2003 to 2008. With more than 20 years in the Richmond restaurant scene Chef Hall is truly a asset to the city’s cuisine.