It’s rare to find one person who is doing exactly what they want in life, let alone two. But chefs Kyle Bailey and Tiffany MacIsaac are doing just that: cooking food they love in a restaurant geared towards their tastes and styles. They’re all about serving homemade food, no pretensions and you can tell neither one of them is the type to cut corners in the kitchen.
The married pair came to DC in 2009 after working at the now closed, Allen & Delancey in New York City. Michael Babin, one of the co-owners of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, approached Bailey about coming to work at Birch & Barley. “He said he wanted to open a beer restaurant, and he was like, ‘I hope that’s not going to be a problem for you.’ Are you kidding? That’s like my dream,” says Bailey. “It wasn’t about dumping Miller Lite on fish. I wanted to cook my food and prepare dishes with awesome beers. I take the long way home every time. It’s about quality and cooking from scratch.”
From starting out as a dishwasher when he was 14, Bailey has come a long way. Most recently, he was nominated for Food & Wine’s The People’s Best New Chef in the Mid-Atlantic region. Still, he remains humble and dedicated to teaching other cooks in his kitchen how to become better at their craft. In Bailey’s kitchen, no one (not even himself) is above washing dishes if that’s what needs to get done.
MacIsaac shares the same philosophy of finding the right people to work in the kitchen and cultivating a good team. She stresses the importance of their cooks “putting up plates that they’re proud of.” Like Bailey, MacIsaac had humble beginnings in the restaurant industry as a hostess in New York City. “Back then I never thought of food as something more than just filling your stomach,” she says. After going to culinary school, MacIsaac found her niche as a pastry chef. As I watch her whip up homemade ricotta cavatelli, Bailey marvels at her “intimate knowledge of dough.” Try one of her desserts or pasta dishes and you’ll understand exactly what he means.
Since moving to DC, the duo has had their professional challenges–finding the right people to staff their kitchen and the right purveyors. But they will quickly say that several chefs in the area have welcomed them and helped them find other people who are just as passionate about quality ingredients. Another challenge was moving to a town with a late-night food scene that pales in comparison to the one in the Big Apple. They both agree (and frankly, I do as well) that the DC nightlife has to expand in order for the food scene to grow as a whole. Another benefit of a bigger late-night food scene in DC is that those who already work in the restaurant industry would have places to congregate after work, talk about the industry and exchange ideas, MacIsaac says.
There’s also the challenge of being married and working together. Bailey laughs as he tells me that they’re like Dr. Dre and Eminem. “We fight nonstop, but we get along better than anyone else,” he says. MacIsaac appreciates the fact that the two are honest with each other in the kitchen. Neither one will hold back on giving feedback about a certain dish. “We’re honest with each other because we’re both striving for greatness,” she says.
As for the future, the pair is looking to add new meaning to the concept of farm to table. Bailey hopes that someday their kitchen staff will get to spend one day per week working on farms that supply the restaurant through Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture, a concept launched by the Neighborhood Restaurant Group. It doesn’t get much more farm to table than that.
Check back at 3 pm for a recipe from Chefs Kyle and Tiffany for their homemade ricotta cavatelli with slow-roasted pork, toasted pine nuts and broccoli rabe.