Like many chefs I talk to, Ed Witt went into the restaurant industry in a sort of roundabout way. He had cooked in high school and enjoyed it, but it wasn’t until after four majors and three years in college that he decided to really pursue being a chef.
After stints in San Francisco and New York City, Witt returned to the DC area in 2009. Although he is originally from Binghamton, New York, Witt went to high school in DC and later attended University of Maryland. In June 2010, he became part of restauranteur Ashok Bajaj’s empire when he was hired as the executive chef of 701 Restaurant in Penn Quarter.
At times working in a restaurant downtown with a largely tourist-based clientele can be challenging. But for Witt there are plenty of positives in the kitchen. “I get to be pretty creative as long as it’s within our costs,” Witt says. At 701, Witt gets to experiment with housemade charcuterie and he’s excited about getting a pasta extruder for the restaurant. For those not familiar, a pasta extruder is a machine that can make pasta in various shapes that cannot be done by hand. “We keep pushing it, keep the menu fresh and keep changing things,” says Witt.
One of the biggest changes in DC that Witt has noticed is that more people are choosing to live within the city rather than in outside suburbs, he says. With more people in the city, more restaurants are popping up and the food scene is growing, according to Witt. “DC’s a nice up and coming city,” he said. “There needs to be more development in the middle. There are great meals at high-end restaurants, but the middle range is not as developed.”
In the kitchen, Witt says the one thing he can’t live without is a particular Japanese smokewood. According to Witt, the smokewood’s flavor is subtle and even fruity. Plus, there is the advantage of being able to cold-smoke vegetables or fish easily with the wood. Outside of the restaurant and in his own kitchen, Witt enjoys going to farmer’s markets and “picking up whatever looks good for the day.”