The Young and Delicious

by Editorial
Archival photo of Meshaun Labrone as an active duty police officer
Behind-the-scene shot from the Tubi short film "Spook"
Meshaun Labrone

Local products also play a significant role at the Franco-modern CityZen (1330 Maryland Ave. SW), where executive chef Eric Ziebold, 35, has been inspired by choats, or baby pigs (the tender meat is “to die for,” he says). Raised by Amish farmers in Pennsylvania, the pigs arrive whole, which means Ziebold is constantly striving to use the animal from nose to tail, a venerable challenge that he finds thrilling. “Because I’m younger, guests assume my food will be hyper-modern,” he says. “But I have a reverence for traditions.” Still, the long hours – not to mention in-house butchering – are demanding. “Cooking, breaking down pigs – this is physical work, very taxing,” he says.

It’s like being an athlete,” says Haidar Karoum, 33, chef and co-owner of Proof (775 G St. NW), a sleek wine-centric restaurant with fresh, modern fare. “Eventually, knees start to go.” For most chefs, this means striving for success early, after gaining a few years of kitchen experience, but before the slipped disks strike.

As chefs advance, looking beyond the kitchen is also important. That means finding your own recipe for good restaurant management. “Eventually, it’s more about teaching other people to cook,” says Ethan McKee, 30, chef at the healthy, environmentally conscientious eatery Rock Creek. “Once you become a chef, the important thing is to become a good manager, organizer and teacher.” It also means developing your own cooking style. Nico Amroune, 38, chef at Teatro Goldoni (1909 K St., NW). “I don’t want to be like other restaurants. I hope people enjoy my food, but to be successful, you have to be yourself,” he says.

Though only 38, Cathal Armstrong, chef and owner of Restaurant Eve (110 S. Pitt St., Alexandria), which features elegant, regional American cuisine, as well as of The Majestic and Eammon’s A Dublin Chipper, has already stepped into the role of mentor. “When you act as a good leader, people will follow you,” he says. His executive chef at The Majestic (911 King St., Alexandria), Shannon Overmiller, 31, is grateful for his guidance. “I’ve learned the proper ways in all aspects of the business,” she says.

For these young chefs, success comes with a price: a lack of personal life. Being a chef is “like being a Jedi knight,” says Armstrong. James Muir, 30, regional executive chef of Rosa Mexicano, agrees: “We work weekends, holidays, nights …. There are a lot of restaurant industry relationships because I guess we’re the only people who understand each other.”

In the end, however, it is passion – for creating food that makes people happy – that turns the heat, the stress, the long hours, into something sublime. “I have a lot of mad passion. I don’t know if it goes away when you get older,” says Armstrong.

Just what the 40 and under chef ordered …

What do you eat out of the kitchen?
James Muir (Rosa Mexicano): A great burger with fries from Matchbox, or Pizza Paradiso’s four cheese pie.

Is there anything you’ve ever regretted?
Cathal Armstrong (Restaurant Eve): When I was 19, I opened my first restaurant in Dublin. I closed it one night to go to the pub and the food critic came.

What’s your favorite region of cuisine?
Eric Ziebold (CityZen): French is comfort food, what I enjoy eating on a primal level; Japanese because of the way they balance things. I find it mesmerizing.
Nico Amroune (Teatro Goldoni): New, modern American cuisine comes off really strong, with its combination of French, Italian, and Spanish.

What’s your favorite vegetable?
Barton Seaver (Hook): Artichokes. There is nothing I love more than artichokes.

Any guilty food pleasures?
Shannon Overmiller: Cheese curls
Haidar Karoum: Organ meats. I’m trying to eat as much foie as possible before it gets banned.
Ethan McKee: I don’t feel guilty about eating. Ever.

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