Rising Stars

Washington's restaurant scene is full of promising young chefs. Here are 13 rising culinary stars that we think are worth your attention

By: Kate Nerenberg

Who: Anthony Chavez, Pastry Chef at 2941

Age: 30.

Why we chose him: His pairing of old-school French techniques and playful touches makes for artful but approachable desserts.

Hometown: Santa Ana, California.

Also worked at: Ritz-Carlton in Chicago.

Unofficial culinary education: “When I was 14, I worked in a concessions stand at a water park making funnel cakes—just to get my foot in the door.”

Favorite cheap eat: “I’ll eat barbecue all day every day. I like Willards in Chantilly.”

Memorable meal: “I ate at Per Se three years ago and had the best desserts I’ve ever had. The tray of chocolate candies at the end was like being at the jewelry shop and being presented with a tray of diamonds.”

Always in his home fridge: “Deer meat that I’ve shot and butchered with my father-in-law, bread from the restaurant, and 2-percent milk.”

Favorite doughnut: “Cake doughnuts with toasted, candied coconut at Dunkin’ Donuts.”

>> Next: Birch & Barley's Tffany MacIsaac

Who: Tiffany MacIsaac, pastry chef at Birch & Barley

Age: 29.

Why we chose her: Childhood favorites (oatmeal cream pies, Hostess cupcakes) get a gourmet upgrade, and she puts together one of the area’s best bread baskets.

Hometown: Haiku, Hawaii.

Also worked at: Union Square Café and Cru in New York City.

Childhood memory: “A Japanese lady would sell creamsicles and pudding pops on the beach. My sister would get one and I’d get the other, and we’d go halvsies. Now I always have a pudding pop on my cookie plate.”

Food epiphany: “I turned 18, moved to New York, and got my first job as a hostess. I was scared to go in the kitchen. One day they cooked a tasting menu for me, and I realized food wasn’t just to fill your stomach.”

Guilty pleasure: “Laffy Taffy. No one ever has it, so when I see it, I get like 30 and keep them in my purse.”

Favorite cheap eat: “BonChon Chicken in Annandale. That was a spiritual fried-chicken experience.”

Most visited Web sites: Perez Hilton, Eater, StarChefs.

Stimulant of choice: “I drink a decent amount of coffee. Irish coffee with Jameson and Baileys—but only on a day off.”

>> Next: 1789's Travis Olson

 

Who:Travis Olson, pastry chef at 1789.

Age: 28.

Why we chose him: He pushes the old-guard restaurant’s boundaries with lighthearted sundaes and ice-cream sandwiches, and he throws in surprises such as cardamom funnel cake.

Hometown: Arlington.

Also worked at: DC Coast and Clyde’s.

Guilty pleasure: “Tofutti Cuties ice-cream sandwiches. My girlfriend brought home a box.”

Where he’d be if not wearing a chef’s hat: “Maybe making moonshine.”

Favorite cookbook: “Edna Lewis’s early books—not necessarily for the pastry but for the older approach to cooking when recipes weren’t so important.”

Favorite kitchen gadget: “I’m into hand tools—anything that puts me in control—instead of anything with an electric motor. I really want an oil press for nuts and seeds. Supposedly you can build one from a car jack.”

Favorite pie: “I used to do a cream pie at Clyde’s of Gallery Place that married the top three cream pies. It was a coconut crust with chocolate pudding, grilled and flambéed rum bananas, and whipped cream."

>> Next: Trummer's on Main's Chris Ford

Who: Chris Ford, pastry chef at Trummer's on Main.

Age: 25.

Why we chose him: There’s elegance and simplicity in his desserts (coconut sorbet with black-sesame tuille) but also cleverness (a deconstructed Oreo).

Hometown: Orlando.

Also worked at: ChikaLicious Dessert Bar in New York City.

How he got into cooking: “I started baking with my grandmother at age six. We baked bread—the first thing I remember eating is the taste of yeast.”

Häagen-Dazs or Ben & Jerry’s? “I can eat from McDonald’s, but I won’t eat store-bought ice cream.”

Favorite cookbook: Ph10: Patisserie Pierre Hermé by Pierre Hermé: “A goal for me is to have the kind of presence in America that he does in France.”

Always in his fridge: “Diet Coke (I’m not a big drinker, so Diet Coke is my fine wine) and onion marmalade that I make or bring home from work.”

Kitchen disaster: “Boiling a can of sweetened condensed milk to make dulce de leche at Norman Van Aken’s restaurant. I didn’t keep refilling the water in the pot, and it exploded like a bomb.”

Last meal: “A cheeseburger and French macarons from Pierre Hermé or Ladurée.”

>> Next: Bibiana's Douglas Hernandez

Who: Douglas Hernandez, pastry chef at Bibiana.

Age: 32.

Why we chose him: A high level of craftsmanship goes into his desserts—his bomba is crafted with six chocolate elements.

Hometown: Queens.

Also worked at: Le Cirque, Lutèce, and La Grenouille in New York City; Central Michel Richard in DC’s Penn Quarter.

Childhood memory: “I couldn’t watch a lot of TV, but when I did it was mostly Julia Child and Jacques Pépin on PBS.”

Where he’d be if not wearing a chef’s hat: “Playing the alto saxophone.”

Memorable meal: “I recently did a tasting by myself at WD-50 in New York. I walked in at 11:30 pm and grabbed the last table to see Wylie Dufresne’s interpretation of food, sitting there with my eyes closed, tasting each bite.”

Post-work drink: “Cold Dr Pepper.”

Late-night snack: “Chinese food from New Big Wong in Penn Quarter. I get the General Tso’s chicken and crispy fried pork chops.”

Stimulant of choice: Jack3d energy drink.

>> Next: Bourbon Steak's David Varley

Who: David Varley, executive chef at Bourbon Steak

Age: 29.

Why we chose him: Lots of celebrity-chef restaurants lose their shine once the boss flies to another outpost, but Varley has kept this kitchen strong, turning out his own citrus-steamed halibut and pork bánh mìalongside San Francisco–based chef Michael Mina’s classics.

Hometown: Stillwater, New Jersey.

Also worked at: Lespinasse in New York City; Bradley Ogden in Las Vegas.

Comfort food: “Any pie my mom makes.”

Guilty pleasures: “Pork rinds, Pixy Stix, and hot dogs.”

Favorite cheap eat: “I’m a secret ambassador for El Pollo Rico in Wheaton and Arlington.”

Always in his fridge: “White Burgundy, mustard (I have something like 18 kinds), and hot sauce, which I collect.”

Favorite burger: “The lamb burger at Citronelle’s lounge is the most delicious thing on earth.”

Memorable meal: “Cooking for Jean-Louis Palladin at Clio in Boston. It was known that he had cancer, and this was almost like a last supper for him. Ken Oringer, the chef, got a two-pound black truffle—it was the size of a dinner plate."

>> Next: Think Food Group's Ruben Garcia

Who: Ruben Garcia, director of research and development at Think Food Group (Minibar, Cafe Atlantico, Oyamel, Jaleo, and Zaytinya).

Age: 32.

Why we chose him: José Andrés’s right-hand man runs the dazzling Minibar and helps his boss plan restaurant concepts in Las Vegas and Miami.

Hometown: Barcelona.

Also worked at: El Bulli in Roses, Spain.

Memorable meal: “José Andrés and I cooked for Salma Hayek’s wedding in Venice. The banquet was in an opera house that didn’t have a kitchen, so we had to improvise one on two boats. The menu was ten courses. We started that day at 6 am and finished at 4 am, then left for Washington at 8 am.”

Favorite sandwich: “A really good grilled cheese with potato bread—it gets crunchy around the edges and moist inside. I use Emmenthaler with Parmesan, so you get a little bit of sharpness, and basil or whatever is growing in my garden.”

Get-up-and-go drink: “Cola Cao, a cocoa mix from my childhood. It’s like Nesquik.”

Restaurant that inspires him: “Every restaurant has something special. Even something bad can inspire you. I don’t go to McDonald’s because of the quality, but there’s something amazing about how they can bring so many people to their locations. There’s something to learn there.” 

>> Next: Bar Pilar's Justin Bittner

Who: Justin Bittner, executive chef at Bar Pilar

Age: 30.

Why we chose him: He’s turned a drinking den into a dining destination with seasonal dishes—peaches with olive oil and sea salt, crispy potatoes with malt aïoli—that are simple but big on flavor.

Hometown: Baltimore, where he still lives.

Also worked at: Tio Pepe’s in Baltimore; the Elkridge Furnace Inn in Elkridge, Maryland.

Guilty pleasure: Crunchy tacos at Taco Bell.

Favorite cookbook: Ad Hoc at Home: “Thomas Keller’s recipes are perfect. For the fried chicken at Bar Pilar, we started with the Ad Hoc recipe. I also really like Momofuku and Simple French Food by Richard Olney.”

Kitchen disaster: “Recently I was trying to season a cast-iron pan. I put an inch of oil in it and cranked up the heat. I forgot about it, and it caught on fire. I had to throw it in the alley, and the sidewalk lit on fire, too.”

Most visited Web sites: “I don’t even know how to use Microsoft Word.”

Post-work drink: “Tecate beer and a shot of Jameson. The industry standard.”

Last meal: “I have no interest in caviar and foie gras. I’d have my mom’s lasagna."

>> Next: Jackie's Diana Davila-Boldin

Who: Diana Davila-Boldin, executive chef at Jackie's, Silver Spring 

Age: 28.

Why we chose her: The menu looks like it has culinary ADD—it includes dishes from her Mexican heritage, Southern-fried chicken, Korean-accented tuna, and squid-ink pasta—but she pulls it off with confidence and skill.

Hometown: Chicago.

Also worked at: Her parents’ Mexican restaurants starting in fifth grade; Ardeo in DC’s Cleveland Park.

Favorite childhood snack: “Flautas—my mom used boiled chicken, and she used to make me shred it by hand. I tried to wait for it to cool down, but she told me to do it right away and it’d taste better.”

Guilty pleasure: “It used to be a Filet-O-Fish sandwich from McDonald’s. I always hid it from my husband.”

Favorite cookbook: “All of Charlie Trotter’s basics cookbooks—Meat & Game, Seafood, Vegetables, and Desserts. Anytime I’m writing a menu, they’re my go-to.”

Post-work drink: “Herradura tequila. It’s made in Mexico—a beautiful silky, vanilla-y tequila that never gets any credit.”

On her iPod: “Madonna—the only famous person that if I were to meet her, I’d cry.”

>> Next: Eola's Daniel Singhofen 

Who: Daniel Singhofen, chef/owner of Eola

Age: 31.

Why we chose him: Although he quietly slipped into the restaurant scene last year, he has already made his mark by emphasizing rusticity—offal, charcuterie, house-made pasta—over trendiness.

Hometown: Orlando.

Also worked at: Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Florida; K Restaurant in Orlando.

Guilty pleasure: “I like to sneak out and get a burger at Five Guys with bacon and cheese. If it’s going to be greasy, it shouldn’t be anything that resembles healthy.”

Country he’d like to visit: “Peru—my father-in-law taught me how to make a proper ceviche, and I’ve been enamored ever since.”

Favorite sandwich: “I’m a Reuben freak. Really good ones are hard to find.”

Favorite breakfast: “Besides bacon? I’m pretty simplistic when it comes to breakfast. Eggs Benedict is about as far as I stretch.”

Favorite knife: “I have a Kikuichi 91⁄2-inch chef’s knife that’s my workhorse in the kitchen.”

On his iPod: “In the kitchen, I put Pandora on the Chopin station. Outside of that, music is foreign to me.”

>> Next: 1789's Daniel Giusti

Who: Daniel Giusti, executive chef at 1789.  

Age: 26.

Why we chose him: While most chefs his age are pushing out flashy plates, he’s been slowly nudging this institution away from meat and potatoes toward appetizers such as headcheese with pickled carrots and jalapeños.

Hometown: His family moved around but settled in Great Falls, where Giusti attended Langley High School.

Also worked at: Clyde’s in DC’s Penn Quarter; Guy Savoy in Las Vegas.

Favorite product to work with: “We buy a whole 250-to-300-pound pig every week. We have to keep ourselves from putting bacon in every dish.”

Favorite local restaurant: “Obelisk. It’s not pretentious, and it’s solid, clean food.”

Most visited Web sites: “I go on OpenTable like 50 times a day. I constantly check the comments from customers.”

Favorite breakfast: “Sometimes I eat breakfast food at night. I take bacon from the restaurant and make Belgian waffles with bourbon-barrel-aged maple syrup, tons of Vermont Butter & Cheese brand butter, and Aunt Jemima waffle mix—it’s fantastic. Sometimes I have a screwdriver with it.”

>> Next: Againn's Wes Morton

Who: Wes Morton, executive chef at Againn.  

Age: 32.

Why we chose him: Thanks to Morton’s attention to detail (poaching prawns in seafood broth instead of water), traditionally heavy British pub food becomes refined.

Hometown: Lafayette, Louisiana.

Also worked at: Citronelle, Circle Bistro, and CityZen.

Guilty pleasure: “My grandmother’s fried chicken, and I can never have it again because she passed away. It was a straightforward recipe—but it’s one of those things that are never the same.”

Most inspiring food trip: “London. It’s not British pub food that inspires me; it’s the way the British cook. It’s almost based on how your grandma would cook—very simple, all about local ingredients.”

Favorite cheap eat: “X.O. Taste in Falls Church—I get any kind of pork belly or some kind of fatty brisket.”

On his iPod: “Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and the Grateful Dead.”

Late-night bar: “The Passenger—they make the best Manhattan in the city.”

Hangover cure: “A Bloody Mary and fried eggs with toast.”

>> Next: Addie's Nate Waugaman

Who: Nate Waugaman, executive chef at Addie's.  

Age: 34.

Why we chose him: He steadied this rocky kitchen with his strong all-American cooking and an emphasis on local ingredients.

Hometown: Conneaut Lake, Pennsylvania.

Also worked at: Al Forno in Providence; Black’s Bar and Kitchen in Bethesda.

First job in Washington: Personal chef for Redskins owner Dan Snyder.

Favorite cookbook: A Return to Cooking by Eric Ripert: “I was at a friend’s house, and it was on the coffee table and I read it cover to cover.”

Favorite product to work with: “It’s surprising because I don’t do any Asian cooking, but I use white soy sauce all the time. It has saltiness without the overwhelming soy flavor, so I can blend it into things.”

Favorite breakfast: “Anything with scrapple. When I was growing up in Pennsylvania, my dad used to make scrapple and cornmeal mush. It’s like polenta in a block—you slice it and fry it with scrapple and eat it with maple syrup.”

Last meal: “I’m a taco fanatic, so tongue tacos would be high on the list. There are two places that do them well: the Taco Bar, which is in a gas station in Gaithersburg, and La Placita in Hyattsville.”

This article first appeared in the October 2010 issue of The Washingtonian.