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2017-10-11 / Taste

At The Shaved Duck, homegrown talent cooks up something new

BY RICH GRISET STAFF WRITER

Midlothian native Matt Kirwan is head chef at The Shaved Duck, opening Oct. 12 in Westchester Commons. JENNY McQUEEN Midlothian native Matt Kirwan is head chef at The Shaved Duck, opening Oct. 12 in Westchester Commons. JENNY McQUEEN Cardboard boxes and blueprints are scattered about the tables. The glassware is in its proper place behind the bar. Edison bulbs hang from the ceiling, their warm glow reflecting off metal surfaces. A Books-A-Million gazes on from across the parking lot.

A week away from its Oct. 12 opening, things are shaping up at the Shaved Duck, a New American restaurant in Westchester Commons. So far, all is going according to plan. All, that is, except for the chairs that were supposed to be delivered days ago.

“We had a couple of hiccups,” says Joe Kmetz, owner and general manager, with a smile.

The Shaved Duck is the handiwork of Kmetz and fellow Midlothian native and head chef Matt Kirwan. Both graduated from Midlothian High and have known each other since childhood.

Consistent with the restaurant's name, some of Kirwan's menu items showcase duck in unexpected ways, like the duck pancetta carbonara. JENNY McQUEEN Consistent with the restaurant's name, some of Kirwan's menu items showcase duck in unexpected ways, like the duck pancetta carbonara. JENNY McQUEEN When Kmetz decided to strike out with a restaurant of his own, a mutual friend recommended he contact Kirwan, who was working as a sous chef in New York at the time. Kmetz thought it was a long shot, but unbeknownst to him, this had been Kirwan’s plan all along.

“My goal was always to come back and open up my own restaurant, and then Joe called me,” Kirwan says. “I was already working on my own business model.”

Kirwan’s career in food began while working for the Country Club of Virginia in high school.

“My first job was cooking hamburgers and hotdogs for golfers,” he says. “I fell in love with it, and they gave me more opportunities.” With most of his experience in French and fine dining, Kirwan aims to add his own twist to the classic recipes and techniques he’s learned.

“My favorite style of food is classic French bistro-style food, utilizing every piece of the duck, chicken, whatever it is,” says Kirwan, adding that his menu will have a touch of southern flair. “I’m pulling from a little bit of everything.”

Playing off of the restaurant’s name, Kirwan has incorporated duck into the menu. Instead of serving chicken and waffles, the American soul food classic, Kirwan has concocted a confit duck leg over an asiago waffle with a chipotle blueberry sauce. The restaurant’s take on the Italian dish carbonara is prepared with duck pancetta instead of traditional pancetta, which is made of pork belly. Straightforward dishes like duck breast are given a razzing, served with poached pears and salsify, a white root similar to a parsnip.

“We’re trying to bring a little bit of the elements that are in New York and D.C. and now downtown Richmond over to the south side,” Kmetz says.

Donald Watson, bar manager, says his approach to cocktails isn’t far from Kirwan’s vision for the food.

“My aim is to include the classics, a little bit of my own flair on it, and build from there,” says Watson, whose cocktail list includes vintage standbys like an Old Fashioned, a Corpse Reviver and a Negroni. “We kind of want to be trendsetters, as far as cocktails out here.” The drink selection is rounded out by local beers, and wines from Italy, France and California.

“The idea of bringing that style of food and drink here is encouraging and challenging. Where better to do it than the place where the two of us grew up,” Kirwan says. “We don’t want to be the classic corporate restaurant that’s around here.”

Kirwan and Kmetz stress that they want their restaurant to be accessible to a mass audience, which is why cheeseburgers and shrimp and grits share real estate on the menu with pasta dishes of gnocchi and cavatelli.

“I just know this area,” Kmetz says. “I know what people’s expectations are. I know where to reel the reins in so that it’s not too intricate and off-putting.” ¦

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