So I have a few chef crushes in this city. DC is full of adorable, smart, funny and talented chefs – how can a girl not wind up with favorites? I’m not going to show you my whole hand, but I will let you in on one chef crush of mine – this guy. Chef Alain Roussel of La Ferme. After Cathy and I took a trip out to Chevy Chase to learn how to make souffle, we walked out of the restaurant and I gushed “AH! If only he were younger, I’d totally be smitten!” “I know!” agreed Julie Feldman, his PR person, “He’s great!”
Each of these Capital Chef articles is different – some chefs are business-like, some chefs are delightfully casual to the point of throwing eggs at me, and some chefs, my favorite chefs, feed us nonstop. Chef Roussel is the latter – everything about him is warm and old-school. Chef is oh-so-French (fraunchhhh, if you will), and spending a morning learning how to whip up the classic French souffle was such a fun experience. You can’t help but feel comfortable in his kitchen, surrounded by his favorite foods. He brought us (excellent, crave-worthy) coffee, (excellent, crave-worthy) croissants, lemon and sugar crepes, and of course, two souffles.
Chef Roussel started out teaching Cathy to properly prepare a souffle dish, rounding it out with sugar, and tells us how to shape the souffle. I begin to ask him how he shaped his culinary career, and learned that Chef Roussel grew up in France, but moved to Mexico, joining a restaurant in Mexico City in the 80′s. He did that for four years, then moved to America and opened La Ferme in 1986.
I asked what has changed for him since he first opened his restaurant, now a long-standing Chevy Chase staple. He told me that the availability of products is much wider. “You can get fifty olive oils now,” he exclaimed. “Lots of chocolate, lots of vegetables. You can get fish shipped in on a daily basis.” What do you love, I asked. Roussel admitted to loving straightforward French food. “You know when you do a good job,” he confesses. “I like cooking.”
I asked about La Ferme as a restaurant, while Cathy learned how to beat egg whites. “La Ferme means the farm in French,” Chef explains. “We chose the rooster as the symbol because it is the national bird of France. The rooster is tall, it encourages the French to be whoever the are. The rooster is proud, but not arrogant.” La Ferme has a huge history, and Chef takes us on a tour, stopping by a picture of the restaurant filled with women in hats. “Eleanor Roosevelt’s lunch,” he states proudly. He shows us the picture, and points to places they’ve made improvements. The dining room of the restaurant is two stories tall, a big open dining space, surrounded by an upstairs with tables lining the balcony, overlooking the main area. It’s a bit kitschy, a bit frou-frou, but I love the homage to the farm, I love the symbolism behind it all. Outside, a large porch wraps around the side.
“What do you look forward to about spring,” I ask. “The terrace opening,” Chef says about his restaurant. “Flowers. My scooter.” I laugh at this, picturing Chef Roussel on a Vespa scooter, riding around Chevvy Chase on his days off. “What do you do on your days off?” “I go out, no chain restaurants, only independents. I like Chinese food, dim sum, thai. I also like anything good, Barbecue, or even a baked potato.” And this is why I have a crush on him – the baked potato is one of my favorite comfort foods.
As the souffles come out of the oven, puffy, hot, I marvel at this gem of a restaurant tucked away in the suburbs of DC. You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy warm croissants to dip in coffee, and I’d encourage you to rush out to La Ferme and do just that. Check back at 3 p.m. for Chef’s souffle recipe, and Cathy’s experience recreating them when she gets home.
La Ferme is located at 7101 Brookville Road, Chevy Chase, MD 20815. Free parking is available in a lot on-site. A $34.00 prixe fixe is served Tuesday through Friday, but not for long. So go on!