Food and Drink, The Features, We Love Food

We Love Food: Chinese New Year

Photo courtesy of Dave Newman (newmanchu)
Chinese New Year courtesy of Dave Newman (newmanchu)

It’s the Year of the Dragon folks, which other than promising good fortune and fire-breathing glory also means mouth-watering Chinese menus at some of DC’s best Asian haunts. Starting January 23rd  Zentan, Toki Underground, and The Source will be paying homage to the Dragon through the culinary traditions of the Chinese New Year.

Now, for some brain food. The Dragon, also known as the divine beast, is the fifth sign of the Chinese Zodiac Calendar which consists of 12 animal signs, and is a symbol of good fortune and a sign of intense power. The official Chinese New Year is Monday, January 23rd and is celebrated as a family affair, a time of reunion and thanksgiving, for a whole 15 days. Traditional foods include a whole fish (represents unity and abundance), chicken (for prosperity), uncut noodles (representing long life) and dumplings (for good fortune).

So, where can you get your Dragon on and eat for good luck?

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Capital Chefs, Food and Drink, The Features

Capital Chefs: Jaime Montes de Oca of Zentan (Part 2)

Photo courtesy of
‘Watermelon and feta salad at Zentan 3′
courtesy of ‘bonappetitfoodie’

Some might say there’s nothing better than biting into a sweet, juicy wedge of watermelon in the summertime. So to take that watermelon to the next level, you’ll find chef Jaime Montes de Oca’s recipe for a watermelon salad with mint, feta and a black pepper vinaigrette after the jump. It’s incredibly easy to make, and the soy sauce and black pepper with the sweetness of the watermelon and saltiness of the feta make for a great and refreshing combination. You can make it an hour or so in advance, although this is not a salad that needs time to marinate. Enjoy it on a picnic or underneath the breeze of a fan on a hot summer’s day.

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Capital Chefs, Food and Drink, The Features

Capital Chefs: Jaime Montes de Oca of Zentan (Part 1)

Photo courtesy of
‘Jaime Montes de Oca of Zentan 4′
courtesy of ‘bonappetitfoodie’

There are a handful of characters in one’s life that can really have a profound affect on the shape of your life and career. For Jaime Montes de Oca, the executive chef at Zentan, there are three women who drove him to cook: his grandmother, a Colombian nanny he had growing up and Nancy, a kitchen manager/chef who worked with him when he was in high school.

“I would stand and watch [our nanny] cook and I would help prepare food with her,” says Jaime. “It was a creative outlet, a creative way to fill mouths and stomachs.” When Jaime grew up and started working in the front of the house at a “turn and burn” restaurant at a Holiday Inn, Nancy was the one who advised him to go to culinary school if he was going to be serious about working in the restaurant industry.

Following years of working kitchens across New York City, Thompson Hotels (the owners of the Donovan House which is home to Zentan) sent Jaime down to DC to try to convince him to take a job in Susur Lee’s restaurant. For someone who grew up in New York and has lived in almost all five boroughs, Jaime was slightly hesitant to pick up and move. “They showed me the brand new kitchen and talked about what I could do here in DC,” he says. “Looking back on it, it was the right decision. DC is having a renaissance with restaurants and hotels. A lot more young people are coming here. If DC continues on the path it’s going, it will become a food capital. We’re getting very close.”

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