7 Inspiring D.C. Chefs To Know (& Love) In 2013

There's no doubt that Washington's food culture is hot, but how on earth are we supposed to take its temperature? How can we get a window into what the future holds for foodies, and, more importantly, figure out who exactly will be shaping that future?
You could take someone else's word for it — The New York Times, for example, has suggested that our culinary landscape will be guided by the vendors at Union Market and the chefs at Graffiato, Toki Underground, and Little Serow. But a more unique — and in our opinion, better — approach is to ask local chefs to measure the heat. And we don't mean the same old bold-faced names, either: We’re talking about the up-and-comers who are launching new restaurants, boosting culinary creativity, and adding vibrancy and energy to make your next meal unforgettable. Sounds like a recipe for success to us.
Advertisement
1 of 7
Victor Albisu
Diners in D.C. have been anticipating Albisu’s return ever since he left his job as executive chef at BLT Steak early last year. In 2013, he’ll be back in action in a major way — his first solo restaurant, a Mexican taqueria called Taco Bamba, will open soon in Falls Church, and he’ll debut an even more ambitious project, an asado (South American barbecue) restaurant called Del Campo, in Penn Quarter this spring.

What D.C. chef, past or present, has been an inspiration for you? Why?
"I came up in D.C. kitchens, so I still feel like I was influenced indirectly by Jean-Louis Palladin, because I worked with a lot of people who worked for him. He had such a distinctive style, and stories about him were in all the kitchens I worked in. I think that Todd Gray is a great chef. His demeanor is one that everyone wishes they could have."

If you had to pick a last meal for yourself from a D.C. restaurant, what would it be?
"Hands down, the best thing I ate last year was the blanquette de veau at Mintwood Place. The goat shoulder at Komi is one of the best dishes in the city. We eat a lot of Pollo Rico in Arlington with the family."

What’s the most hilarious or harrowing kitchen disaster you’ve experienced?
"I had a crazy night at a restaurant I will not name when our range hood went down and I had to climb on the roof to readjust the belt in the middle of a big lightning and thunder storm. I had to come back down drenched and run the line the rest of the night."

Who isn’t on this list that we should have included?
"Haidar Karoum (Proof, Estadio) is opening a new Asian restaurant that will be a hot ticket. The chef at Taberna del Alabardero, Javier Romero, is really great at Old World-New World fusion food. I’ve been very impressed."

What dish of yours best exemplifies your approach as a chef?
"I do a take on what’s traditionally called a matambre, an Argentinean rolled skirt steak dish stuffed with cheese and vegetables. My take is a skirt steak roulade that has charred onions, manchego cheese, fresh herbs, and burnt onion chimichurri. I grill it slowly, instead of poaching it. I love grilled and charred elements."

If you hadn't been a chef, what profession would you have chosen?
"I used to work in the international development field, but I also play the guitar and might have been a musician."
2 of 7
Marjorie Meek-Bradley
In her position as Chef de Cuisine at Graffiato, Top Chef star Mike Isabella’s hugely popular Penn Quarter restaurant, Meek-Bradley has become one of the highest profile female chefs in D.C. – a city that needs more women in top kitchen positions. In 2013, Meek-Bradley’s challenge will be to keep Graffiato firing on all cylinders as Isabella turns his focus to his new concepts, G and Kapnos, which will open later this year. To sustain the buzz and solidify her imprint on the Graffiato kitchen, Meek-Bradley is kicking off a new special events program with an upcoming beer dinner.

What D.C. chef, past or present, has been an inspiration for you? Why?
"I really love what Nora Pouillon has done at Restaurant Nora. She is an amazing woman. I’m from Northern California and I worked at a certified organic restaurant out there, and we were the second restaurant in the country to get that certification after her. Cathal Armstrong is also amazing. He does a really great job utilizing local ingredients. He just makes beautiful food."

If you had to pick a last meal for yourself from a D.C. restaurant, what would it be?
"I would choose Rasika. I love it. The crispy spinach is amazing. All of their naan and breads are great. I also get the green chicken curry every time I go."

What’s the most hilarious or harrowing kitchen disaster you’ve experienced?
"I do tend to be clumsy at times. Mike was here and having a very important meeting at a downstairs table near the kitchen, right when he was about to sign the deal to open Kapnos. We’re all trying to make everything look extra-fantastic. I was making spiced pistachios from a 25-pound box of pistachios; I opened it with a knife and walked away. The pistachios, in a steady stream, poured out all over the place — everywhere. He looked at me and turned away and shook his head."

Who isn’t on this list that we should have included?
"Shannon Overmiller, executive chef at The Majestic, is great."

What dish of yours best exemplifies your approach as a chef?
"We have a robiolo cheese agnolotti on the menu. I love making fresh pasta — it’s very meditative. For that dish, we use chicken jus, bread crumbs, and pickled onions. It’s like macaroni and cheese, but at a different level. I like to think of what I really want to eat, and then make it more unique."

If you hadn't been a chef, what profession would you have chosen?
"I think I wanted to do something with the law. I always thought about being a lawyer or being in international affairs. I can be a bit argumentative, so I kind of enjoy that, and I also wanted to travel."
Advertisement
3 of 7
Katsuya Fukushima
Fukushima is best known for spending years as chef José Andrés’ right-hand man at ThinkFoodGroup, but before he teamed up with the celeb chef, he did stints at other venerated D.C. restos, including Cashion’s Eat Place and Vidalia. Now, Fukushima is preparing to open Daikaya, one of the most hotly anticipated spots in recent memory — and definitely the highest profile outpost in the city’s ramen boom.

What D.C. chef, past or present, has been an inspiration for you? Why?
"Luckily, in the beginning of my career, I worked for Ed Hanson of Ella’s, Ann Cashion of Cashion’s Eat Place, Kaz Okochi of Kaz Sushi, and José Andrés. José is my mentor and the one who influenced me to be the chef that I am today. When I’m in a jam, I ask myself, 'What would José do?'"

If you had to pick a last meal for yourself from a D.C. restaurant, what would it be?
"I would go to Sushiko and ask chef Koji and his team to make me a tasting menu from the whole counter."

What’s the most hilarious or harrowing kitchen disaster you’ve experienced?
"At an event in Texas with José Andrés, I remember wheeling a cart of about 200 piquillo pepper flans from the oven to be plated. We hit an electrical cord and the cart tipped, but we caught it. We laughed and I asked José if he ever had a kitchen disaster. He said he hadn’t. The flans were for another chef, and as we got into the room where they were to be plated, we hit another cord at the entryway and the cart tipped over. I saw the poor chef’s face. José and I looked at each other and instantly shouted 'Spoons!' We dumped all the crushed (but salvageable) flans into a bowl and made quenelles for 200. Luckily, the plate ended up looking elegant, and we ended up with a story."

Who wasn’t on this list that we should have included?
"Mostly I try to avoid these types of lists. I don’t need the spotlight, nor do I feel like I should be singled out. We all work hard and put ourselves out there. This is more about the team."

What dish of yours best exemplifies your approach as a chef?
"Fortunately, I am still searching for that dish."

If you hadn't been a chef, what profession would you have chosen?
"I am truly blessed. I was a math and art major — neither field would have fulfilled me. I don’t sigh or moan after 16 hours in the kitchen. When I ponder what else makes me happy, I think about my younger days of breakdancing and DJing. I could spin vinyl and dance for a living."
4 of 7
Tiffany MacIsaac
MacIsaac certainly isn’t a new name in D.C., but the city’s most prolific and creative baker deserves more credit than she gets. She currently oversees pastry operations at all of Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s properties, including two Buzz Bakery locations and Birch & Barley, where her husband Kyle Bailey is the well-regarded chef. In 2013, she’ll be keeping watch over an expanded empire as NRG opens GBD and The Iron Gate in Dupont, Bluejacket Brewery in Southwest D.C., Buzz Bakery at Navy Yard, and three Red Apron Butcher shops. GBD has generated the most buzz, and for good reason: The resto will serve MacIsaac’s doughnuts alongside Bailey’s fried chicken — a match made in heaven.

What D.C. chef, past or present, has been an inspiration for you? Why?
"I think the person I'm most impressed with at the moment is Allison Sosna. Her unwavering commitment to bringing better food and eating habits to underserved communities in D.C. is truly inspiring. I thinks it's amazing that she’s putting herself out there in such a powerful way."

If you had to pick a last meal for yourself from a D.C. restaurant, what would it be?
"My husband’s pastas at Birch & Barley are my weakness, but I also love the plate of pâtés and terrines at Proof."

What¹s the most hilarious or harrowing kitchen disaster you¹ve experienced?
"Although kitchen disasters are never hilarious at the time, [an event] I witnessed at CRU restaurant in New York is worth retelling. We sent a [new] intern down to the basement, where the pastry department was, to make red beet puree. It was the middle of service, and I'm sure the chef needed it fast and made that clear, so the intern was in a mini panic. He put a bunch of beets in the high-power blender and flipped it on at full speed. It was a little thick, so he added stock, scraped the sides, and then turned it back on full speed — without the lid. The puree shot all over the kitchen. About 30 seconds later, the sous chef came around the corner and was a real jerk about it. My pastry team scrambled to help him clean it up, but he was really embarrassed and got reamed. Luckily, we all laughed about it later, and he went on to be the chef de cuisine at Ssam Bar, one of my favorite spots, so it all worked out in the end."

Who wasn¹t on this list that we should have included?
"I think Todd Wiss of Firefly is one of the most underestimated chefs in D.C. No joke, Kyle and I had the best brunch we’ve ever had there recently. He cooks the kind of food a chef wants to eat on their day off."

What dish of yours best exemplifies your approach as a chef?
Can I choose two? The Cookies and Confection plate I currently offer at several of the restaurants really showcases how fun my job is! It is six or seven homemade versions of childhood classics: Popcorn ice cream, a raw cookie-dough pop, a mini Hostess cupcake, and a cashew Snickers bar are some of the items you can find on the plate now. They are meant to be more grown-up versions of what you ate as a child. They should just make you feel good when you eat them.

I also like to mix flavors that are familiar with new ideas and techniques. In the summer, I had a PB&J dessert featuring a mousse of cured foie gras and peanut butter. I served it with sour cherry sorbet, peanut powder, micro celery (because I always had celery sticks with my PB&J), and cinnamon toasted brioche. I think the fact that it was the flavors of peanut butter and jelly made people who would otherwise steer away from a dessert with foie gras feel more comfortable to try it."

If you hadn't been a chef, what profession would you have chosen?
"I'm one of those people that would be happy doing a lot of things. I love the fast-paced, high-stress environment of a kitchen, but I think if I did something else, I would want it to be the exact opposite. Arranging real or sugar flowers on a wedding cake is one of my favorite parts of the job. I know it's really weird, but I've always been slightly infatuated with the idea of having a flower shop. I think it would still be artistic, but being surrounded by flowers seems like it would be very soothing, and I've never seen it on those 'most stressful jobs' lists, so it would be a step in the right direction concerning my blood pressure."
5 of 7
Aaron Silverman
Silverman, a D.C.-area native, began cooking at 2941 in Falls Church before moving on to stints at restaurants run by some of the hottest chefs in the country, including McCrady’s in Charleston and Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York. Now, he’s back in the city and preparing to open his first restaurant, Rose’s Luxury, on Capitol Hill. Silverman has taken a decidedly DIY approach to outfitting his restaurant, going so far as to raise $20,000 through Kickstarter to buy design elements and tableware.


What D.C. chef, past or present, has been an inspiration for you? Why? "Every chef here acts as an inspiration for what I do. I find inspiration everywhere. Every place I’ve gone, every meal I’ve eaten, I find some kind of inspiration. But I have to say that chefs Jon Krinn and Temple Turner from 2941 had a huge influence on me."

If you had to pick a last meal for yourself from a D.C. restaurant, what would it be?
"Easy. Two Hong Kong-style ducks at Peking Gourmet, in my pajamas."

What’s the most hilarious or harrowing kitchen disaster you’ve experienced?
"Definitely the time when I was a cook at the original Momofuku in the East Village. Thomas Keller [of Napa Valley restaurant French Laundry] came to the door after we closed. No one could see his face since the closed sign was blocking it. We thought it was just some drunken dude trying to walk in off the street and eat after-hours (which happened often). The sous chef yelled, 'Tell that ---hole we’ve been open since noon, he’s had the last 12 hours to come in!' We finally realized it was Thomas Keller and apologized profusely. Fortunately, the guy is like the nicest guy on the planet and was totally cool."

Who wasn’t on this list that we should have included?
"Right now, I’m super excited about what Hiroshi and Cizuka Seki are doing over at Izakaya Seki."

What dish of yours best exemplifies your approach as a chef?
"I’d say one of our desserts: apples, cheddar, and Ritz cracker ice cream. We take the ice cream, pour hot apple compote on top, slather it with an apple syrup, drizzle on a bitter caramel sauce, add a pinch of sea salt, and then shave fancy cheddar cheese all over top. It tastes almost like apple pie. In my opinion, it does not suck."

If you hadn't been a chef, what profession would you have chosen?
"If I couldn't be a chef, I’d buy an oversized gold TCB necklace and a white sequin jumpsuit and become a professional Elvis impersonator."
6 of 7
Alli Sosna
Sosna bills herself as a “classically trained chef and socially conscious entrepreneur.” After graduating from L’Academie de Cuisine and cooking at various D.C. restaurants, Sosna became executive chef of Fresh Start Catering, the social-enterprise venture attached to D.C. Central Kitchen. The experience awakened her passion for improving access to healthy food for D.C. school children. In 2012, she launched her own non-profit, MicroGreens, which aims to do just that. She has established partnerships with D.C. Public Schools and taken her case to the Office of First Lady Michelle Obama. She also continues to work as a caterer and cooking instructor, and does menu consulting for local chain Sweetgreen.

What D.C. chef, past or present, has been an inspiration for you? Why?
"Peter DiGeorge was a mentor for me when I first got into cooking at Chef Geoff’s. Ris Lacoste and Jamie Leeds are also inspirational for me, because there aren’t many women in this field who are able to create multiple enterprises and get so involved in philanthropy. I aspire to be like José Andrés, because he is using food ventures to create social change. He’s redefining the power of chefs."

If you had to pick a last meal for yourself from a D.C. restaurant, what would it be?
"I would go to BLT Steak and order popovers, steak, and a gin & tonic."

What’s the most hilarious or harrowing kitchen disaster you’ve experienced?
When I was at Hook in Georgetown, we were getting ready for lunch service one day and we tripped the ANSUL system, which goes off when a grease fire happens. It basically releases this goo, like slime from Double Dare, all over everything. The fire department had to come and it was a total mess to clean up. We did make it through the day without closing."

Who wasn’t on this list that we should have included?
"Matt Baker from Occidental. He is really creative and a nice, humble guy."

What dish of yours best exemplifies your approach as a chef?
"I cook a lot of straightforward food, but I focus on making sure there are a lot of textural elements. I really love risotto with mushroom stock and dehydrated mushrooms. Another signature dish is my vanilla ice cream with butterscotch sauce and cinnamon popcorn."

If you hadn't been a chef, what profession would you have chosen?
"I wanted to be a professional rower."
7 of 7
Thomas Madrecki
Madrecki’s supper club, Chez Le Commis, surprised everyone when it was included in Washingtonian restaurant critic Todd Kliman’s “Best in Food 2012” list. That’s not a bad endorsement for a young man whose “restaurant” is his small Clarendon apartment. This is no amateur chef, however: Madrecki apprenticed at Noma in Copenhagen (routinely dubbed the best restaurant in the world), as well as La Chateaubriand in Paris and Zaytinya in D.C.

What D.C. chef, past or present, has been an inspiration for you? Why?
"How could I not pay homage to Jean-Louis Palladin, who ruled D.C.'s dining scene only a few decades ago? I've always liked Frank Ruta's cooking at Palena, too, and I think a lot of chefs — both in D.C. and across the rest of the country — could learn from his approach."

If you had to pick a last meal for yourself from a D.C. restaurant, what would it be?
"I would go to Palena Café. I’d start with a bottle of Frank Cornelissen’s wine, then move on to a salad of raw and roasted beets with cumin and lime. Then I’d order a few simple pastas and ask chef Ruta to choose the main course, just so long as I get two or three of his honey-pine nut tarts with sheep's milk ice cream and rosemary caramel. I might also do a second dessert in Baltimore afterwards: garlic bread from Peter's Inn. There's no shame in gluttony."

What’s the most hilarious or harrowing kitchen disaster you’ve experienced?
"The closest I can think of is Inaki Aizpitarte repeatedly pointing a blowtorch at me in Le Chateaubriand's kitchen."

Who wasn’t on this list that we should have included?
"Juan Rivera of Bandolero — not for producing Mike Isabella's food, but because of what Juan is capable of on his own."

What dish of yours best exemplifies your approach as a chef?
"There's a one-bite dish at Chez — sometimes a mignardise, sometimes an opening snack — that just consists of a Granny Smith apple slice dipped in honey and cracked Szechuan pepper. It tastes like pine — like if you bit into a juicy Christmas tree. And, there's another dish that's just a whole roasted onion, chilled and covered in coconut yogurt. It's all about minimalism, simplicity, addition through subtraction."

If you hadn't been a chef, what profession would you have chosen?
"I'm still holding down a 'real job' in communications right now, so I’d probably be a public relations executive or a corporate lobbyist."
Advertisement