Study Abroad: Chefs on the Cooking Stage That Changed Their Lives

Trust the French to make interning sound fancy. In the restaurant world, a stagiaire, or stage (pronounced staahj), is when a chef temporarily works in another kitchen, usually without any compensation. Oftentimes, chefs will embark on these internships to learn how to cook a different cuisine, expand their repertoire of techniques, or get a peek behind the curtain at a revered dining institution. It’s not a glamorous chill session full of swapping anecdotes with their culinary heroes, though; it’s a lot of dull, difficult work. However, if a chef is very dedicated and a little lucky, they just might walk away with a new perspective on cooking or a skillset that could alter the course of her or his career forever. These three chefs share the story of the cooking stage that changed their lives.

Daniel Gursha of Bambara, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Cooking Stage

“When I began thinking about staging somewhere, I started writing to a lot of different restaurants, but noma was always my number one. I had the cookbook, took it everywhere with me, and studied it religiously. Then head chef Matthew Orlando finally wrote me back, but I was almost too scared to open the letter. Luckily, he said, ‘We’ll take you in September 2011 until the end of the year.’ It was the best restaurant in the world at that point, so it was a dream come true.

The first day at the restaurant was amazing and overwhelming. You begin by doing grunt work and then you work your way up. Most people spend the first two weeks picking herbs and walnuts. There were some people who never left that station. I had to push to get out of there. I spent three weeks at every other station and then a month in the test kitchen alongside chef-owner Rene Redzepi. I got to sit there and taste the same things he tasted, talk to him about it, see what was going on in his mind and how he was developing dishes.

I’ve always been about trying to showcase ingredients for what they are. I want a carrot to taste like a carrot and I’m going to make that be the best carrot it can be. Going to Noma pushed this philosophy to new heights.”

Rob Weland of Garrison, Washington, D.C.

Cooking Stage

“In the early nineties, I did a yearlong stage at Pierre Orsi in Lyon, France, which was the gastronomical capital of the world back then thanks to Paul Bocuse. It was supposed to be unpaid, but, ultimately, they felt sorry for me, so they gave me a very meager wage. I was very young, so it was all very intimidating.Continue Reading

Catch a Rising Star: The 10 Hottest DC Chefs Whose Food You Need to Eat Now

The nation’s capital has produced a number of nationally recognized culinary superstars – from frontrunners like Michel Richard and José Andrés to new school breakouts such as Mike Isabella and Aaron Silverman. But who is going to be the next big thing? Who will capture the hearts and bellies of District diners with their cooking? Inspired by the South, Southeast Asia, and many points in between, these talents are crafting cuisine that’s taking the dining scene to new heights. Here are the 10 hottest DC chefs whose food you need to eat right now. Yes, right now.

Harper McClure of Brabo
Keeping an eye on classic culinary technique – while never failing to add his own show-stealing touches – this artful chef de cuisine puts out plates that honor the past while looking to the future. Wow-worthy dishes of recent memory include bacon-style sturgeon with pickled red pearl onions and Concord grape puree and an espresso braised boneless short rib dusted with cocoa powder and crowned with crunchy cocoa nibs. McClure’s résumé reveals a rich culinary pedigree, including stints at Vidalia, Equinox, and Marcel’s, where he worked for executive chef Robert Wiedmaier, who ultimately placed him in charge of Brabo. Nominated for a RAMMY Award for Rising Culinary Star last year by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, he is a talent to watch. Make a reservation at Brabo.

10 Hottest DC Chefs

Brittany Frick of Doi Moi
After earning her degree from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and further pastry training at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, Frick began her career at Red Velvet Cupcakery at the height of the cupcake boom, helping bake 3,000 of the sweet treats a day. From there, she worked under executive chef Haidar Karoum at Estadio before moving to his Southeast Asian standout down the street, where she commands the chef de cuisine position. Whenever she composes a new dish for the restaurant – like fried whole porgy amped up with chili rich kapow sauce – she tries to include five elements: salty, sour, bitter, spicy, and sweet. “It’s simple, flavorful food,” she says. “There’s very little fuss behind the preparation. You just let those flavors shine.” Make a reservation at Doi Moi.

Hottest DC Chefs

Alex McCoy of Alfie’s 
You might recognize the fresh-faced talent from Food Network Star. But before he hit the small screen, he was making big waves in D.C. as the chef at the East London-styled Duke’s Grocery in Dupont Circle. Now he’s the chef-owner of Alfie’s, a Southeast Asian joint in Petworth inspired by McCoy’s numerous trips to the region and his longtime love of its food. Two dishes that epitomize the fare are khao soi – a Burmese coconut curry soup with homemade egg noodles and your choice of beef short ribs or chicken wings – and intensely spicy tom saap soup made with leftover offal and plenty of aromatic herbs. This is just the beginning for McCoy. He and his partners have another dozen restaurant concepts in mind and hope to open their next one in about a year and a half. With such an ambitious schedule, will he find time to return to reality television? “The TV thing is fun, but I’m a chef,” he says. “I belong in the kitchen.” Make a reservation at Alfie’s.

Hottest DC Chefs

Brad Deboy of Blue Duck Tavern
Chef de cuisine Brad Deboy has had it with modernist cooking. “We’re moving away from foams, sous vide, and stabilizers,” he says. “Now we’re doing a lot of curing, smoking, pickling, and preserving. I want to go back to the basics.” To that end, he and the team here are making kimchi, vinegars, and charcuterie. He’s clearly having fun. Fried Brussels sprouts are tossed in sriracha-style hot sauce vinaigrette and served on pimento cheese. “It’s inspired by chicken wings,” he says. “We call it ‘Redneck Delight.” Another example of his lightheartedness is the lobe of foie gras served s’mores style on a housemade graham cracker with toasted marshmallow, a square of half-melted dark chocolate, and jalapeno-infused candied grapefruit segments. Make a reservation at Blue Duck Tavern.

Hottest DC Chefs

Thomas Harvey of The Partisan
Following stints at Fabio Trabocchi’s Casa Luca and Palena under Frank Ruta, Harvey now presides over the Penn Quarter meatopia and butchery. He loves having access to the shop’s primest cuts. “It’s not often you get a phone call saying there’s a 180-day aged ribeye available. Would you like to work with it?” says Harvey. “It’s like a playground.” The menu is equally playful. Take his seared duck breast served with Old Fashioned cocktail gastrique. “Mixologists say they get most of their ideas from chefs, so I thought I’d turn that around and get some inspiration from them,” he says. Want to continue the dining experience after you leave? You can take home a breakfast basket, which includes half a pound of house-cured bacon, six farm eggs, four tigelle (Italian griddle-cooked breads not unlike English muffins), and honey hot sauce. Make a reservation at The Partisan.

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Sweet Spring! 7 Desserts Celebrating Cherry Blossom Season in DC

The capital’s Tidal Basin erupts into a flurry of pink as the cherry blossoms bloom at the end of March and beginning of April. The rosy buds mark the start of spring in the region. To commemorate the return of warm weather, chefs work overtime to create sweet treats which draw inspiration from and pay homage to the much-Instagrammed floral display. Here are seven desserts that celebrate cherry blossom season in DC.

Sing it with us, “Tastes so good make a grown man cry/Sweet cherry pie, oh yeah!” Just to be clear, this sweet vee was inspired by the pies baked in Door County, Wisconsin, — not Warrant’s hair metal anthem. Each generously portioned wedge is packed with the red stone fruit swimming in a sticky filling. Vanilla ice cream is optional though we can’t imagine why you’d want a slice without a scoop. That’s sounds practically un-American to us. Make a reservation at Wildfire.

Cherry Blossom Season in DC

Ted’s Bulletin–14th Street
There are fewer things that make our inner children happier than a pop tart. This seasonal, springtime-only version is packed with cherry filling and glazed pink. Pro tip one: ask the server to pop it in the microwave for 15 seconds, so it’s nice and warm. Pro tip two: Take a couple home, so your breakfast game will be on point the next morning. Make a reservation at Ted’s Bulletin.

Cherry Blossom Season in DC

The Pig
The cherry trees speckling the Tidal Basin were originally gifted by the city of Tokyo in 1912. To evoke those roots, pastry chef Audrey Valero has created a Japanese-styled dessert: matcha pistachio cake topped with black sesame ganache. It’s accompanied by a quenelle of miso caramel ice cream. If that’s not enough, order an additional scoop of azuki bean ice cream. Make a reservation at the Pig.

Cherry Blossom Season in DC

Even the Easter Bunny is envious of this egg. The three-foot-tall chocolate treat decorated with cherry blossoms towers over anything you can buy in the CVS candy aisle. The oversized oeuf will be displayed in the West Wing of the White House over Easter weekend while smaller versions will be used as a part of the annual Easter Egg Roll. Make a reservation at Centrolina.

Cherry Blossom Season in DCContinue Reading

On the Menu: Chefs’ Favorite Condiments

Whether they buy them or make them, a condiment is often a chef’s secret ingredient. Used as finishing sauces or as an integral component of recipes, they take dishes from everyday to outstanding. Here are top chefs’ favorite condiments and how they use them in delicious dishes you’ll want to order (and you may also want to put them in your pantry).

Clay Conley, Grato, West Palm Beach, Florida
Chef Clay Conley of Grato is a fan of Calabrian chili oil. According to Conley, “It has a great balance of smoky and salty flavors, and just the right amount of heat to complement many dishes.” Currently, it’s being used to add heat to a cool dish of tuna crudo with tomato water and cucumber. Make a reservation at Grato.

Chefs' Favorite Condiments

Jason Halverson, Stones Throw, San Francisco, California
Stones Throw has become known for creative dishes such as Puffed Potatoes and Eggs with Cauliflower Mousse, Chives, Crispy Chicken Skin, and Squid Ink Conchiglie with seafood, but the Da Burger is a classic that never comes off the menu. Chef Jason Halverson is an admitted condiment junkie, but when forced to choose one, he picks the Japanese product Kewpie Mayonnaise. Says Halverson, “Kewpie Mayonnaise is like mayo on crack. I like it because it’s so versatile. You can add it to coleslaw, sandwiches, sauces, etcetera. It’s a hidden go-to ingredient. It’s not so cloying as regular mayonnaise. It’s in the secret sauce on the burger but also used as a binder in the tater tots.” Make a reservation at Stones Throw.

Chefs' Favorite Condiments

Chris Santos, Vandal, New York, New York
Chef Chris Santos says, “I’m a huge connoisseur of heat. I always have 40 to 50 hot sauces on hand, but Midori Sriracha is my new favorite. It has such a unique taste, and it was exactly what we needed for the Hong Kong egg waffles.” It’s used in the Chicken Katsu and Hong Kong Egg Waffles at new restaurant and lounge Vandal on the Bowery in New York, which features street food from around the world. Make a reservation at Vandal. 

Chefs' Favorite Condiments

Perry Hoffman, SHED, Healdsburg
Perry Hoffman chooses Kozlik mustard, a sweet and smoky mustard from Canada he found on the shelf in the SHED store and describes as more mild than Dijon or whole grain. Says Hoffman, “It’s salty sweet, spicy and it hits all of the flavor profiles. It’s the umami of mustards and I love it.” He likes it smothered on a roast chicken and as a base for a veggie dip. At the restaurant, it is used in the dressing for the mustard greens accompanying the Whole Poussin, which is served dramatically with head and feet attached. Make a reservation at SHED.

Chefs' Favorite Condiments

Edward Lee, Succotash, National Harbor, Washington, Maryland
According to chef Edward Lee of Succotash, just south of Washington D.C., Chung Jung One’s Gochujang Korean Chili Sauce — the next generation of the traditional fermented hot chili paste — gives foods a spicy and tangy flavor with a hint of sweetness. “It isn’t just spice for the sake of heat. It is nuanced and layered. It has sweetness and umami, lots of umami. It adds flavor and complexity,” says Lee, who mixes the sauce into the pimento cheese layer of his Tex-Mex-meets-the-South Pimento Fundido for a deep, tangy, spicy kick. Make a reservation at Succotash.

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