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.
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.
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.
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.
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.