At some point in our lives, most of us have had a moment where we stare at the television screen and say to ourselves, “That’s what I want to do with my life.” For some it’s fantasy but for others, like Teddy Diggs, it actually becomes reality.
Diggs, the executive chef of Ripple, grew up on the “old Food Network” as a kid living in Oklahoma. You know, back when Food Network was actually good (that’s my opinion, at least) and aired shows with real chefs, like Bobby Flay and Emeril. So after watching the pros, Diggs became more interested in cooking, went on to take culinary classes in high school in Chantilly, VA, and eventually attended the Culinary Institute of America.
Following culinary school, Diggs did an externship at the now closed Maestro in Tysons Corner. “Maestro gave me the opportunity to completely submerge myself,” he says. Working with Fabio Trabocchi also earned Diggs respect from others in the restaurant community, he says. After a short period at Blue Ridge where he learned about local, sustainable cuisine, Diggs arrived in Cleveland Park at Ripple. Not only is the food there exceptional, but as Diggs says, “it’s fine dining in a casual setting.” Having only eaten dinner there, my ears perked up when Diggs said the restaurant has plans to offer Sunday brunch in the future.
When we got to talking about DC and the restaurant scene, Diggs had interesting points to make. The first thing he likes about the District: “DC is a big town more than a major city,” Diggs says. “There’s one degree of separation for better or worse.”
With everybody knowing everybody else in the food biz, Diggs let me in on a cool, somewhat underground part of the scene: the chef’s club. For those who don’t know, a chef’s club is pretty much what it sounds like–30-40 chefs get together about once per month, different restaurants take turns hosting and they cook for one another. It gives the chefs a voice and helps them all be on the same page, according to Diggs. While it’s fun to eat amongst people that Diggs has worked with but seldom sees, the chef’s club also allows the group to work together towards certain goals as a community, he says.
There are chefs who feel threatened by competition in town, that get shifty-eyed when other chefs or restaurants come up. Fortunately, Diggs isn’t one of them. “The goal of a chef is to exceed the expectations of diners,” Diggs says. “Good restaurants and seasoned chefs are good for the whole community. It makes things competitive–they raised the bar, now we have to raise the bar.”
As many would agree, Diggs says the DC restaurant scene is on the rise, though not for the first time. According to the chef, the pool of talent that was spawned from restaurants in the late 90s is taking off now and the city is striving to reach a balance between the young chefs and “staple” chefs like Fabio Trabocchi and Roberto Donna. We both agreed that the city is finally getting the recognition it deserves on a national level, and that as smaller places open with chefs who are truly passionate and precise in their execution of dishes, DC will only gain more respect.
But for all the hullabaloo in the DC restaurant scene and in the kitchen, when I ask Diggs what he likes to do best, his answer is touching and simple. “I love just cooking breakfast for my daughter. Scrambled eggs and cheesy grits.”
Check back at 1 pm for Teddy’s delicious recipe for potato gnocchi with a creme fraiche sauce, shell beans and spinach. It’s the perfect dish to make on this chilly March weekend.