Tucked away in an unassuming former building supply warehouse in an Alexandria industrial park, a pineapple – a symbol of American hospitality since the colonial era – perches on the sign advertising Port City Brewery, one of several local breweries that have cropped up in the DC area over the last few years. As it turned out, the advertising is correct, and we were warmly welcomed into the brewery by its founder and owner, Bill Butcher. Continue reading →
Move over, quinoa. Sayonara, root vegetables of winter. This bright salad recipe from chef Tony Chittum combines the sweet flavors of apples and dates, with the savory notes from blue cheese, farro, walnuts and brussels sprouts. It’s a simple and straight forward recipe, but elegant and filling. Click through for the full recipe.
Some people seek out their careers, and others have careers that seek out them. The latter was the case for executive chef of Vermilion, Tony Chittum, when he started working in a Mexican restaurant at 14 years old, just washing dishes. “It was easy to get a job in a restaurant then, and I liked it because of the energy,” he says. “Eventually I got sick of dishes and learned how to cook. I was 17 when I met the first real chef I worked for and realized that I could make a career out of this.”
It was then that Chittum “learned why and how to make things,” he says, describing the first time he learned how to make a roux. The Maryland native later moved out to San Francisco, where he worked for and learned from the “classically trained and intense” chef, Don Link. Chittum says that working for a chef of that caliber was a “big eye opener” and he began to learn what it would take to make it as a chef. Fast forward to today, and Chittum can honestly say he can’t see himself doing anything else.
Clearly I’ve been on a bit of an Italian food kick lately. As well as a ragu binge. But is there anything better than a huge, warm pot of zesty, savory tomato sauce cooking away while it’s cold outside? Chef Ari Gejdenson’s recipe for beef ragu at Acqua al 2 is simple and delicious. Click through for the full recipe.
Watching executive chef Ari Gejdenson swiftly expedite plates at Acqua al 2, you’d never guess that he was previously an international soccer player and that the sport was what got him into the restaurant industry. For starters, playing soccer allowed the young chef to travel and be exposed to all different kinds of cuisines in foreign countries. And it was soccer that took Ari to Florence where he began his unorthodox journey to the kitchen. Not long after moving to Italy, he wound up opening Ari’s Diner, an American-style eatery. “I saw a gap and that it was something that was needed in Florence,” he says, adding that a lot of the clientele were American students who were studying abroad.
For Ari, playing soccer and running a restaurant aren’t so different, as he explains that in both arenas your job is to entertain people. “These homesick kids would come in[to the diner] upset. And they would come to this place that reminded them of home and they’d leave happy,” he says. “The whole idea of bringing people into a moment by heightening their tastes was what made me want to become a chef.” At Acqua al 2, you can see him work the room with ease, transitioning from calling out food orders to the kitchen to shaking hands and hugging regular customers.
After running Ari’s Diner with his childhood friend, Ralph Lee, who is a co-owner of Acqua al 2 in Eastern Market, Ari started working at the original Acqua al 2 in Florence and eventually served as the chef for several years there. Gejdenson says it’s hard to be in Italy and not get swept up in the incredibly rich food culture. “The passion for food in Italy is a different thing. You’d have to have a blindfold on not to notice,” he says. After years of living and working in Florence, the Washington native returned home to open the second U.S. location of Acqua al 2.
Put down the Kraft singles. Step away from the cheese whiz or whatever else you’re holding in your hand. Grilled cheese and tomato soup is about to be taken to a whole new level. Fiola style. And in this frigid weather as of late, this hearty soup and sandwich will keep you warm and your belly full.
For Fabio Trabocchi, the chef and mastermind behind Fiola, he says “there’s a lot to learn from what a kid likes,” and occasionally uses it as inspiration in the kitchen. In this dish, Trabocchi takes a childhood classic and makes a grownup version that I’m sure you’ll enjoy.
Click through for the full recipe and here for more pictures.
Ask Fabio Trabocchi what the biggest challenge for him is and you’ll get an interesting answer. “There are no challenges,” he says, and promptly laughs as if to correct himself. Normally, I’d be surprised by such an answer, but when you think about what the chef of Fiola has achieved–a James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic in 2006, Chef of the Year from the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington in 2005, Food & Wine’s Best New Chef in 2002, oh and not to mention working at a 3 star Michelin restaurant by 16 years old–you might think this super-chef has indeed transcended any challenges. Trabocchi clarifies: “It depends on how you look at a challenge. That’s what makes it fun. It’s challenging to run out of challenges. Every challenge is very exciting.”
The chef explained that while some other people might look at work in terms of hours, he chooses not to and frankly, says he doesn’t have time to. “I do this because I really like it,” he says. “I’m involved in the food, the financial side–in every part of the restaurant. I like all the aspects of [the restaurant industry].” As he moves around the kitchen and talks to me in our interview, it’s clear that Trabocchi operates with a certain degree of intensity and razor-sharp focus. Every move is done with purpose. He explains how his work as a chef differs from most: “Other professions can go back and fix their work. A cook puts food on the plate and gets that one chance.”
If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time wandering through the produce aisles staring at vegetables and wondering what in the world you should make with them. You’re overwhelmed by the options and the daunting threat of those veggies passing their prime in the bottom of your refrigerator’s crisper. Stress no more. Chef Ris Lacoste of Ris shared with me a recipe for an endive, walnut and blue cheese salad with port vinaigrette. I know, it’s winter and the thought of salad seems foreign. But this dish is hearty and a great way to get creative and bring some bright flavors into your kitchen while we wait for warmer weather. Click through to find the full recipe. Continue reading →
Growing up, Ris Lacoste thought she would be anything but a chef. She was a pre-med student for two years at the University of Rochester; then she had visions of becoming a UN translator when she got her degree in French at UC-Berkeley. But all the while, Ris was working in the food and restaurant industry in some capacity since she was a teenager. “It was going on my whole life, but I didn’t know it,” she says. When she was 12, she started working at a Polish market on weekends helping out by stocking shelves. By the time she was 16, she was a short-order cook and later an assistant manager at Friendly’s.
Then came France. In 1981, Ris moved to Paris to study French and got a part-time job at La Varenne Écôle de Cuisine as a receptionist and an editorial stagiaire. Her payment? Cooking classes in exchange for work. Slowly, she came to see that all the experiences along the way–talking to the milk man at the Polish market, learning about purveyors, interacting with customers–all of those things pointed her in the direction of becoming a chef. After receiving her grand diplome in French cooking, Ris moved back to the states and started working for Bob Kinkead, before making the move to 1789 in 1995, where she was the executive chef for 10 years. Continue reading →
It caused a bit of a stir when Brian McBride, the long-time chef at Blue Duck Tavern left in November to team up with Robert Wiedmaier on a concept that has yet to be unveiled. But now the restaurant in the Park Hyatt in Georgetown has a new executive chef leading the way: Sebastien Archambault.
The 34-year-old chef was born in Texas but trained in Paris, and has worked under the direction of big names such as Alain Ducasse, Jean-Francois Rouquette and Guy Savoy. Additionally, Archambault has worked in France, Mexico and in Corsica, where he earned a Michelin star during his time at Restaurant Le Pirate. In 2008, he became the executive chef at the Andaz West Hollywood hotel’s RH Restaurant where he met the McBride, the former Blue Duck Tavern chef McBride who assisted in the opening of RH.
“Sebastien is certainly the ideal choice for my successor at Park Hyatt Washington & Blue Duck Tavern,” said Brian McBride, former executive chef of the Park Hyatt Washington in a press release. “He is not only an incredibly talented chef, but also a friend who I have had the pleasure of working alongside in many kitchens – from sharing menu ideas and new dishes to collaborating together at the esteemed Masters of Food & Wine event in Buenos Aires. Sebastien’s culinary vision and commitment to sustainability mirrors the spirit and concept of Blue Duck Tavern and he will work closely with Chef de Cuisine John Melfi to bring the true flavors of seasonal ingredients to the table.”
Pork belly, the stuff of Gods. And if you’ve had the delectable version at Graffiato, you know exactly what I’m talking about–melt in your mouth pork with that nice seared, caramelized outer edge, complimented by a roughly pureed bed of cannelini beans. Chef Mike Isabella shared the recipe with me in the most recent Capital Chefs which you can find after the jump. On a cold winter’s day, this dish is perfect. Continue reading →
Chef Mike Isabella describes himself as intense, focused and driven. And at first you might be intimidated by the tattoos or the serious face when he asks a line cook about a certain dish, not to mention his culinary prowess that landed him on Top Chef and as a runner-up on Top Chef All Stars. But then you mention you’re both from New Jersey or make an astute comment about a dish, and right away the ice is broken, the conversation is off to a start and you wonder how anyone could describe the chef as anything but affable and welcoming.
Like many of the chefs I talk to, Isabella started cooking at a young age just by keeping busy in the kitchen with this grandmother. “I loved the smell of her cooking. Helping her kept me occupied,” he said. From there, becoming a chef was a no-brainer. “This was the only thing I wanted to do. So I knew I couldn’t fail and I worked my ass off.”
The northern Jersey native started out at The Restaurant School in New York, followed by a stint in Philadelphia working with the likes of Stephen Starr, Jose Garces and Marcus Samuelsson. After Philadelphia, Isabella moved to Atlanta to work at a greek restaurant, Kyma, before coming to DC to be the executive chef at Jose Andres’ Zaytinya for three years. Today, you probably know Isabella best from Top Chef and from Graffiato, his Italian restaurant he opened in Chinatown this past summer. “I had grown up in New Jersey, went to New York and then Philly and Atlanta, but I couldn’t find the right fit for me,” Isabella says. In a goldilocks-esque moment, it turned out that DC was just right for the chef. “DC is the perfect size,” he says, adding that the farms in the area are a huge asset. “This city sticks together. We all [in the culinary scene] support one another and make each other better. Chefs here always welcome new people with open arms.” Continue reading →
A lot has been happening in the DC chef community in the last month or so. Here’s a recap on the comings and goings of local chefs across the city.
First up, after 12 years Equinox’s chef and owner Todd Gray is passing the torch on to a new chef. Karen Nicolas, Equinox’s new executive chef, recently came from Simon Pearce restaurant in Philadelphia and Soul restaurant in Chicago. Nicolas also had a stint as executive sous chef at Tom Colicchio’s Gramercy Tavern in New York City. While Gray said in a press release that he will continue to work with Nicolas on dishes at Equinox, he added that her “culinary vision will be reflected in the menu.” Continue reading →
With winter approaching, I’m feeling more in the mood to spend time in the kitchen cooking up warm meals. Chef Todd Gray’s recipe for shrimp and grits is one of those that you can spend a little extra time preparing and will hit the spot when you’re cozy inside on a chilly winter’s day. You can find the dish on the menu at Watershed Restaurant or make it at home with the recipe after the jump. Continue reading →
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.” Continue reading →
Ah, breakfast. Some say the most important meal of the day. So why not spruce it up a bit, ditch the usual bowl of cereal and start the day off right with something a little decadent? After the jump you’ll find chef Takashi Ohseki’s recipe for ricotta-stuffed french toast that’s on the current brunch menu at Cork Wine Bar. Bring out the maple syrup and roll up your sleeves for this one.
At first glance you might not think a scientist and a chef have much in common. Sure the two follow recipes of sorts, but one gets to be creative with food while the other has to follow some pretty rigid rules, right? For Takashi Ohseki, executive chef brunch sous chef of Cork Wine Bar, the two roles coexist in his kitchen. “When you run an assay, it’s like making a recipe,” he says. “Only here in the kitchen we can adjust things more.”
The former biological science major and researcher put down the pipettes and traded them in for a chef’s knife when he realized that a career cooking sounded better than one in the research lab. While his upbringing had taught him that college and a job in an office setting was the right path, he knew he needed a change of pace. “You have to like what you do,” he says. So Ohseki studied at L’academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg and didn’t look back. Continue reading →
It’s slowly getting a little cooler outside, which means that I can actually spend extended periods of time in my kitchen without melting. So here’s a recipe from Amy Brandwein of Casa Nonna for a homemade tortelloni stuffed with a delicious and soft cheese mixture. Don’t be intimidated by the length of the recipe or the idea of making homemade pasta. Turn on Netflix or your favorite playlist and spend a few hours in the kitchen with your pasta. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon on the weekend, if you ask me.
As I watch chef Amy Brandwein call out orders to line cooks across different stations while juggling dinner tickets and checking plates before they go out, I can see how she managed three jobs, planning a wedding and culinary school all at the same time. The executive chef of Casa Nonna says that even 10 years into her career as a chef she still feels like she’s just scratching the surface.
“The learning never stops. I’m an inquisitive person by nature,” says the chef who gravitated naturally towards cooking Italian food. “There are all different regions [of Italy] with their own foods, their own dialects.” Each month Brandwein focuses on a different region and its food at Casa Nonna.
Prior to becoming a chef, Amy was doing political research for a lobbying firm in DC but was “cooking in all her spare time.” Growing up, her dad was a good home cook and vegetable gardener who was always clipping recipes and inspiring Amy. So when she came to the fork in the road of her career, Brandwein decided that rather than go further into politics, she would go into cooking. “I didn’t want to waste any time not doing what I love to do,” the Arlington native says. So she went to culinary school and started staging at Roberto Donna’s Galileo.
It’s summertime and if you look around, you’ll notice that tomatoes are ripe and abundant. They’re in salads, they’re on sandwiches, they’re in your gazpacho. They’re everywhere! So here’s a recipe for something a little different from Will Artley: a tomato jam. The chef suggests serving it on scallops, on toast, and I think it would even go quite well on some roasted chicken. Plus, if you are a little more advanced, you can can the jam and have it last for months. Click through to find the full recipe.