The first thing that you need to know about him is that Chef Victor Albisu has a calm, dry sarcasm that I find highly entertaining. Cathy and I recently stopped by his Farragut restaurant, BLT Steak, to learn how to cook mushroom risotto.
We walk into his kitchen and Chef Albisu pulls out a pan of mushrooms and a big round of Idiazabal cheese from the Basque Country of Spain. “Spain is my favoritist place in the world,” Chef Albisu deadpans. “I’ve been incorporating elements of Basque cuisine into my cooking recently.” And as he pours oil and rice into a pan, letting Cathy take the spoon, we launch into a conversation about Chef Albisu’s cooking styles and whether garlic is better than truffles.
Chef Albisu attended Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. He believes his education helps him think about his food in a more sophisticated way. “People don’t know what goes together,” says Albisu. I asked him what he thought would make the home cook better. “The way to learn is through trial and error. You must give cooking thought and effort.”
Desribing for us what goes together, he says he rarely mixes things from the country and the sea together. The regions are meant to seperate food. “You’ll rarely see me put something from the sea with cheese,” he says.
While we talk, Cathy and Chef Albisu add mushrooms to oil, and then rice and butter to create the creamy, starchy texture. “Listen to the pan. That’s another thing, you must hear what the pan wants,” he exclaims as he spins around to add water to the pan. “Most chefs cook with stock, I think water is underrated. If you have good ingredients, water is all you need.”
Chef Albisu must stick to the BLT Steak empire’s menu, BLT being star chef Laurent Tourondel’s chain of high-end steak, fish and bistro restaurants. But each restaurant has a rotating blackboard menu that is chef-driven and seasonal. “I wanted to be somewhere with high volume and a broad audience for my cooking, but where I could do intimate food,” Albisu says. He values Tourondel’s input and enjoys collaborating with him on menu changes.
As he talks he shakes the pan, rotating the rice and mushrooms. “You want to cook everything evenly, it’s always better.” He adds garlic, saying, “Chefs love garlic.” The aroma of the butter mixed with garlic is heavenly. “Herbs are one of my favorite things, they add vibrancy and flavor.” Albisu says his favorite herbs are parsley and cilantro.
As we’re finishing up the dish, Albisu stuns me by saying he’s not a huge fan of butter. He says there’s no need to make a dish heavy. We grab forks and dig in, breaking a quail egg yolk he’s placed on top of the risotto. “I don’t want to club you over the head with mushrooms, you should enjoy them all the way through.”
And we do.
Check back at 11 a.m. to get Cathy’s take on making the dish and the recipe.
BLT Steak is located at 1625 I St NW