The Dish: Female Forces

Washington’s leading female chefs whip up culinary magic in the kitchen.

Jamie Leeds in her restaurant, Hanks Oyster Bar. (Photo by Jada Nicome.)

Jamie Leeds

Hank’s Oyster Bar
Culinary Chops: New York’s The Globe, Washington Terrace Hotel/15 ria, National Board of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, featured chef James Beard Foundation
Culinary philosophy: Let food taste like what it is. Handle food as little as possible to bring out the inherent flavors. Love what you cook and that will come through to the person eating it.
Biggest career influence: Danny Meyer. He has mentored me through my whole career. He sent me to France to work for a year and that changed my whole outlook on cooking.
Favorite dish to make: Whole baby lamb. I love cooking outside and spit-roasting whole animals. You get different textures and flavors when you roast a whole animal.

her kitchen at Jackie's and Sidebar. (Photo by Jada Nicome.)

Diana Davila-Bolden

Jackie’s and Sidebar
Culinary Chops: Chicago’s Butter and Boka
Culinary philosophy: When I am cooking, I am always happy. I really think that your energy translates into the food. I try to keep it simple, cook seasonally and understand the ingredients. Cooking always has the element of layering and that is what makes it an art.
Biggest career influence: My parents. Not only are they both fantastic cooks and love to travel, they also took us to tons of restaurants from delis to four-star restaurants. The other was the first chef that I worked for, Greg Lutes. It was like being a sponge soaking up all of his knowledge and discipline, and trust me he had a lot of it!
Favorite dish to make: I have never had a favorite overall “dish.” I tend to go through many obsessions, whether it be a single ingredient or an entire cuisine in itself. Right now, I am really into Thai food. I love how complex and aromatic Thai food is.

Tracy O' Grady in her restaurant, Willow. (Photo by Jada Nicome.)

Tracy O’Grady

Willow Restaurant
Culinary Chops: Kinkead’s, Bocuse d’Or competitor
Culinary philosophy: I really enjoy reinventing classic dishes and making them more contemporary through the use of more modern cooking techniques and different flavor profiles. I don’t like to do anything too far out there and try to concentrate on giving Italian and French cuisine an American feel. Fresh vegetables, legumes, grains, beans and fresh herbs are my favorite things to use.
Biggest career influence: That’s hard to say since I’ve had so many. Both my grandmothers started me on my way. Bob Kinkead has been my best and most influential mentor.
Favorite dish to make: I really enjoy making our grilled flatbreads because they are basically a vehicle for any flavor profile and have great texture.

Owner Nora Pouillon outside Restaurant Nora in Dupont Circle. (Photo by Matthew Rakola.)

Nora Pouillon

Restaurant Nora
Culinary Chops: Organic food crusader since the 1960s
Culinary philosophy: I am here to provide wholesome, nutritious food to my customers. My philosophy is that food should keep us healthy — for both people and the environment. For me, cooking is the medium for my message.
Biggest career influence: Elizabeth David and James Beard. For my philosophy on life, my parents. My father’s motto that health is the most precious thing in your life has guided me to become who I am today.
Favorite dish to make: Composed salads to satisfy my craving for colorful, tasty, raw foods. The other are braised dishes, which are so flavorful and give warmth and comfort.

Ris Lacoste, owner of Ris. (Photo courtesy of Ris Lacoste.)

Ris Lacoste

Ris
Culinary Chops: La Varenne Écôle de Cuisine, 1789, American Brasserie
Culinary philosophy: I love to layer flavors that enhance each other, that brighten each other and that play well together. I cook food that is not fussy, that is recognizable and approachable. I cook what I love. And, most importantly, I feed people for a living and I feel that is our responsibility to feed people well with good food that’s local, nutritious and free of the evils of the industrial age.
Biggest career influence: Anne Willan who took me in from the streets of Paris and gave me a job in her cooking school and Bob Kinkead who took me in from Paris, discovered my palate and taught me how to develop it.
Favorite dish to make: Soup. I love a bowl of hearty winter soup with crusty bread and cold salty butter. Nothing like it to calm the savage beast.

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