Juggling multiple restaurants and two catering companies, along with a recent RAMMY award win for 2011 Chef of the Year and several James Beard Foundation Award nominations, you could call Todd Gray a powerhouse of sorts. This year alone, the chef and his wife and business partner, Ellen Kassoff Gray, have expanded their hospitality group to include Todd Gray’s Watershed and Todd Gray’s Muse at the Corcoran just this year. So where did the chef start all of this?
For Gray, who grew up outside of Washington, DC, he knew he wanted to own a restaurant before he knew he wanted to be a chef. While he was studying at the University of Richmond and was working in the front of the house at a local restaurant, he found that he fell in love with the kitchen. “The culinary bus came and I jumped on,” he says.
Flash forward to years of building a successful career, it’s certain that the chef has far more planned for the future. Gray and his wife are working on a book due out in September 2012 with the working title, “Kitchen Conversations: Blending Jewish and American Flavors for Delicious, Easy Meals.” The chef slyly adds that there may be a few more restaurants for him on the horizon, but plays off any specific plans by saying simply, “I’m just going to keep on cooking and having fun.”
‘Todd Gray of Equinox, Chef of the Year’
courtesy of ‘bonappetitfoodie’
Having spent most of his time in the Washington, DC area, Gray says one of his favorite things about the city is its international influence along with the various neighborhoods that are constantly evolving. “It’s fun to be part of Washington,” he says. As for the culinary scene, Gray has praise for the current community of restaurants. “It’s a very tight culinary community,” he says. The chef admits he would like to see more chefs from DC starting their own restaurants here as well as more casual dining options.
Roughly six months after opening the “rustic seaboard dish”-focused Watershed in the NoMa neighborhood, I asked how he saw the area coming together and changing. “It’s a new neighborhood and it’s still getting its identity together,” Gray says, citing the gradual additions of office and residential buildings in the area. “The offices in the area have been very supportive of the restaurant and we’re still getting to know our customer base.”
In addition to listening to customers and staff when building the restaurant’s menu, Gray says he draws his inspiration from travel, the foods and products available on through New England and on the coast, as well as historical cookbooks and advice from his wife and son. Watershed’s focus remains seafood, while Gray highlighted white truffles and new game birds on Equinox’s menu. Gray and his team also recently named a new executive chef at Equinox, Karen Nicholas.
For Gray, the most rewarding part of his job is the ability to do what he loves and work with other cooks. “There are a lot of rewards and few drawbacks,” he says. “The most challenging part is the time you don’t get to spend with your family, especially if you have children. It’s a sacrifice you choose to make.” Focusing on how various awards can be a rewarding part of the job, I asked about what it felt like to win a RAMMY award after having been nominated eight times. “It felt amazing. It made me feel good to see that my peers finally felt I deserved it,” Gray says. “Definitely a highlight of my career.”
Check back at 3 PM for Gray’s recipe for shrimp and grits–a warm, hearty dish just in time for the chill of November.