2011 James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Chef spills the beans on his favorite dishes and why Washington D.C. is a gastronomic heaven.
What’s the inspiration behind your most creative signature dish?
The Philly cheesesteak is a good example of a signature dish. Maybe also the New England clam chowder. We do these at Minibar, where we are always looking at a traditional dish and re-imagining how it can be. I like to be at that place where tradition and modernity come together. At ThinkFoodGroup, we celebrate and strive for authenticity, look at familiar flavors and then push and see how we can elevate to create a unique and amazing experience.
Why do you think Washington has become a destination or great food?
I think Washington has always been an amazing food city. Yes, we have some very talented chefs working here now and doing great things, but we’ve had so many of the best minds and talents here for a long time. The great Jean-Louis Palladin, what an inspiration he was to me and so many other chefs. Michel Richard, Roberto Donna, Jeff Buben, Bob Kinkead, Kaz Okochi, all are visionaries and leaders. Washington is a dynamic city with a lot of tradition but we are always looking to become better.
If you could cook for anyone living or dead, whom would it be?
That’s a tough one. I think I would have to say Gandhi.
What is your ‘death row’ meal?
Jamon Iberico de Bellota and caviar.
The best dish you’ve ever had? The worst dish you’ve ever had?
The best? Anything by my wife. The worst? I can’t remember. I guess that’s what makes it the worst – being forgettable.
What’s your guilty food pleasure?
Gin and tonic.
What do you eat for breakfast?
Fresh-squeezed orange juice, juiced by my daughters.
What’s your drink of choice?
Uh, hello, gin and tonic.
Best cookbook other than your own?
Very tough, but I would say, my original, family edition of “Joy of Cooking” by Irma Rombauer. It was one of the first in my collection of cookbooks. I have become obsessed with original and early-published cookbooks. I look for them everywhere I go. I was just in Boston, teaching at Harvard, and I had to stop at this amazing bookstore. I came home with eight more very unique cookbooks and writings on food. We have some of mine on display at America Eats Tavern. I would also have to say anything by Christopher Kimball and his Cook’s Illustrated or America’s Test Kitchen.
What special dish do you make for the holidays?
At home we make a Catalan stew called Escudella i carn d’olla. It’s a meat stew with some winter vegetables. First you serve the broth that the meat cooked in, then you serve the meat. Unbelievable!