VINTON–Last summer Chef Chris Hamm began preparing and selling his gourmet lunches at the Vinton Farmers’ Market—an extension of his operation at the Greenbrier Nursery’s Farm to Table food market program in southwest Roanoke County.
Hamm moved into his location at the HIVE (Home of Innovative and Visionary Entrepreneurs) Business Incubation Center on Pollard Street in Vinton in January “to get out of the elements,” once the weather turned too chilly for the outside market location.
According to his website, “Hamm’s Fine Foods is a versatile and mobile food business that caters, vends at farmers markets, and creates custom meals. We offer an eclectic variety of cuisines, which are delivered to your plate with the freshest and finest presentation, aroma, and taste. We are proud to be an anchoring establishment that represents the culture, class, and dignified location of what is Roanoke. Every chop and garnishment expresses the love and consideration we place in each and every entrée.”
In addition to the farmers’ markets in Vinton and Roanoke County, he prepares his signature dishes for Big Lick Brewing Company at the corner of Salem Avenue and Second Street in downtown Roanoke.
He caters weddings, reunions, birthday and holiday parties, and other special occasions. In recent months he catered a wedding reception for 250 at nearby Braeloch. He prepares custom meals for individuals, and he sells his popular soups by the quart.
His food preparation is done at R.T. Smith’s Commissary Kitchen in downtown Roanoke.
Hamm says his menu is a little different for each locale, based on his experience. On a recent Monday at the HIVE, he featured Roasted Chicken Green Salad, a Reuben sandwich, Turkey Spinach and White Bean Soup, Chicken Salad Croissants, Salmon Cakes with Remoulade Sauce, Down Home Potato Salad, Kale Bacon Blue Salad, and Pesto Pasta Shells, along with drinks and chips. He brings ingredients with him and assembles dishes on site per request.
In Vinton, chicken salad croissants and rosemary parmesan potato soup are among the most popular items he prepares. Other featured soups lately have included Sausage and Cheese Tortellini, White Chicken Chili, and Cream of Portobello.
At Big Lick Brewing and the Greenbrier market, his Korean BBQ steak wrap is the most requested.
Hamm’s Fine Foods in Vinton is open during lunch hours from 11-2 on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays. He is at the Greenbrier on weekends and at Big Lick Brewery in the evenings.
Hamm is a native of Roanoke and a graduate of William Fleming High School. That’s where his career and passion for cooking had its beginnings with Culinary Arts classes he enrolled in as a sophomore. His first jobs when he was still in school were with pizza restaurant chains.
He earned a scholarship to Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, South Carolina (now in Charlotte) where he received his Bachelor’s degree in food service management.
He was mentored by renowned Charleston Chef Curtis Labitue who he says gave him the recipe for success in food services—“master the various cooking techniques, master seasonings, master presentations—but keep it simple.” Hamm said that befriending Chef Labitue moved his own cooking “to the next level.”
He returned to Roanoke in 2001 and has worked in different restaurants and venues gaining experience in all aspects of food services, as do most beginning chefs. He has worked as a chef for Kroger and as a banquet chef for the Shenandoah Club.
As a Kroger chef he is featured on a YouTube video—which he said was more difficult to produce than one might imagine with many starts and stops in filming.
He has enrolled in the business classes offered by The Advancement Foundation (TAF) HIVE program on Thursday evenings on his way to competing in their Gauntlet competition on April 23 along with about 30 other entrepreneurs or entrepreneur-hopefuls. Each business will compete for cash and other business-related prizes judged on a prepared written business plan and a presentation.
As an established business owner, Hamm says that he has benefitted most from the marketing guidance offered by the HIVE classes and tips on using technology and social media in promoting his business.
As for why he chose to expand his business from southwest county to Vinton, Hamm says that one of his goals is to have several different locations with employees at each while he oversees all. At times he says he is stretched thin trying to keep up with working at several locations now and catering. He is undecided whether he will maintain two locations in Vinton—at the HIVE and the Farmers’ Market once warmer weather returns, or just one.
So far Hamm says he mainly serves the businesses in the HIVE and workers from The Advancement Foundation and would like to attract diners from the new library and the Vinton Municipal building and those passing through downtown.
Hamm’s Fine Foods is located on the upper floor of the Business Incubator Center on Pollard cattycorner from the Vinton library.
His menu and other information are available on his Facebook page at Hamm’s Fine Food, and also on the HIVE and InVinton Facebook pages.