Celebrity chef Art Smith—memorable Top Chef Masters contestant and former personal chef to Oprah Winfrey—always has a lot going on. Recent days are no exception. The Art and Soul owner recently debuted a new look for his Capitol Hill restaurant, published his latest cookbook, Art Smith’s Healthy Comfort, and launched the national Taking Diabetes to Heart campaign to better educate those faced with the disease. Smith, who lost more than 100 pounds himself after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, dished to The Washingtonian about developing healthy recipes, his new restaurant plans for Washington (including in its airports), cooking for the Obamas, and his stance on the food truck situation.
When did you first make the President the recipe for President Barack Obama’s Favorite Glazed Salmon, which appears in Healthy Comfort ?
I made that some time ago. I’ve known the President [since] before he was President—I first met him through Oprah around 2005, and he’s my neighbor in Chicago. At that time I was cooking for Oprah and for the First Family. That recipe was one of his favorites. He’s from Hawaii, and that kind of sweet glaze is very popular.
If you could cook the Obamas any recipe from the book, what would it be?
Knowing their taste—well, they like most everything. There’s a salmon with lentils and mushrooms that’s a really great dish. They’re very fish-driven, and it’s one of my favorite recipes in the book.
Some of the recipes in the book are now on the menu at Art and Soul. Any particular favorites there?
I love my Art Start, which has been on the menu since day one. It’s a really delicious oatmeal. I’ve eaten oatmeal for breakfast for three years. It’s served with berries and Greek yogurt. We also have an egg-white omelet out of the book. In California, at Lyfe Kitchen, we have the un-fried chicken and egg sandwich. Chef Wes [Morton] is working with the book now to bring the various recipes as specials and put them on the menu. For me, learning how to get your act together starts with eating breakfast. I think it’s the most important meal of the day, so that’s where most of my focus has been at the moment.
We’re at the end of a big week for chef shuffles. First Billy McCormick of the Eat Well DC restaurant group—which includes restaurants such as the Pig and Logan Tavern—moved to helm the kitchen at Virtue Feed & Grain. Then the Pig’s Garret Fleming discussed plans with Eater DC for a new gastropub after leaving his post at the pork-centric restaurant. Cork’s Rob Weland is out as of Wednesday and bound (temporarily) for Italy; Cork Market chef Kristin Hutter will take his place. The latest move came this morning back over with the Eat Well folks, who announced that former Sonoma executive chef Michael Bonk is in at the Pig.
Bonk has been consulting at H Street English spot the Queen Vic since leaving his four-year post at Sonoma in January. He officially starts his new position on Monday, May 6. You’ll start to see his influence in specials on the swine-centric menu soon after; early ideas include dishes he cooked in a taste test for the owners, including Kashmiri-style pork belly curry and sausage-stuffed squid with piquillo peppers. Bonks says eventually the entire menu will change to reflect his cooking style, with the exception of a few crowd favorites such as the porchetta and meatballs. You may find a special emphasis on offal dishes—from approachable chicken skin to more out-there cockscombs—and pork paired with seafood, as in the calamari dish. While the infamous pig’s blood sundae isn’t currently on the menu, you’ll find other porky desserts such as a pork sticky bun in the near future.
Outside the kitchen, the toque plans for more neighborhood outreach and community involvement, having been active in programs like Chefs Move to Schools.
“We owe it to the neighborhood and the city we’re in to give back. That’s part of being a chef,” says Bonk.
Chef change at Cork: Rob Weland, the talented if low-lying chef who guided the 14th Street wine bar to a three-star ranking in our February survey of the area’s top restaurants, will be leaving after dinner service tonight, according to Khalid Pitts, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife, Diane Gross.
The parting is mutual, says Pitts, adding that he and Gross hope to partner with Weland on his next venture.
“When Rob came aboard,” Pitts says, “it was with a clear understanding that in three to five years he would open his own place.”
We’ve been looking forward to the debut of Mike Isabella’s 14th Street sandwich shop, G, since the toque divulged details and the upcoming menu back in February. Now it looks like Jerseyites in his home state will get first dibs on a similar concept, as a new eatery, G GrabandGo, was just announced for an opening in Edison, New Jersey, this spring. The Washington version is slated to debut later in the summer.
Isabella partners with sister Diana Isabella and brother-in-law Rob Wetchkus for the 20-seat spot, which promises to combine aspects of both Graffiato and the upcoming G. Both sandwich spots will serve breakfast creations such as the Jersey Mac—duck egg, ham, and Muenster cheese tucked between fresh-baked English muffins—and a variety of Italian classics like chicken Parm and an Italian hero.
Isabella isn’t the first Washington toque to expand to the Garden State. The Revel in Atlantic City drew Robert Wiedmaier and Michel Richard to set up outposts of Mussel Bar and Central, respectively.
Chef at Rasika and Rasika West End
Instrument: Tabla, an Indian-style pair of drums.
His learning process: “If I hear something often enough, I can play it.”
Tip for tabla mastery: “You play with your hands, so you have to have skillful fingers.”
Influences: Indian tabla maestros Zakir Hussain and Alla Rakha.
Where he plays now: “I have a tabla set and a drum kit at home, so I definitely keep the neighbors up.”
What he listens to in the kitchen: Pop, rock, Bollywood tunes, Hindi music.
Chef at Cedar
First restaurant job: Playing violin during Sunday brunch at the Gandy Dancer in Ann Arbor as a teenager.
Pay at the time: $100 an hour.
Training: At McCloud’s peak, he was practicing up to ten hours a day and spending summers at Michigan’s Interlochen Center.
How performing informed his cooking philosophy: “A lot of chefs have this idea that they cook for themselves. If guests like it, that’s great; if not, screw ’em. I’m the opposite because I cook for other people.”
Career high: Taking a class with violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman.
Washington’s Kimpton Hotel Restaurants are undergoing a number of chef changes this month. First came the news that Urbana’s John Critchley was moving over to Bourbon Steak. Now Tom Sietsema reports that celebrity toque Susur Lee will part ways with Zentan in the Donovan House hotel by the end of the month. Stepping in: Jennifer Nguyen, whose résumé includes big-name positions such as sous chef at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon, chef de cuisine at Morimoto in Philadelphia, and executive chef at San Francisco’s Ozumo.
Zentan was always a “modern Asian” restaurant under Lee, who’d travel from his base in Toronto several times a year to oversee the menu, which mainly mixed sushi and other Japanese items with Chinese dishes such as Cantonese-marinated steak and roast duck. A release from the restaurant says while a fusion of cuisines will still play a part in the offerings—blending flavors from Thailand and Nguyen’s native Vietnam—there will be a larger emphasis on Japanese fare. Past experience with sushi, omakase tasting menus, and yakitori will influence the new menu.
The kitchen isn’t the only place with a fresh face at Zentan. Bartender Josh Berner moved from Ripple in Cleveland Park to command the cocktail program at the end of 2012. The new hires are part of the overall changes at the property, which Kimpton took over last spring. Stay tuned for more details as they become available.
There are two Washington chefs among the ten Mid-Atlantic toques in contention for the People’s Best New Chef award from Food & Wine magazine this year. Every March, the magazine publishes a list of 100 up-and-coming cooks in ten regions, and the winner is determined by popular vote.
Toki Underground’s Erik Bruner-Yang, the man responsible for the Taiwanese-style ramen at the tiny H Street restaurant, is among the nominees. Joining him is Cedric Maupillier, the former chef de cuisine at Central Michel Richard who now helms the kitchen at Adams Morgan bistro Mintwood Place.
The two men join seven Philadelphia chefs and one Pittsburgh toque—Kevin Sousa—in the Mid-Atlantic category. The guy to beat may be Philly’s likable and talented Kevin Spraga, who surprised everyone by emerging victorious on season seven of Top Chef. (He used his earnings to open his new American restaurant, Spraga). If you want to see the honor go to one of our own, be sure to cast your vote before March 18.
Five chefs, five dishes, five wine pairings—that’s the idea behind Cochon 555, a traveling pig-centric competition. In cities across America, chefs are challenged to make use of a whole heritage pig, and the winner at each stop goes on to compete at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. This year, the Washington leg of the tour happens on Sunday, April 7.
The 2013 competitors in Washington are: Mike Isabella (Graffiato, Bandolero); Proof and Estadio’s Haidair Karoum; Kyle Bailey of Birch & Barley; Vidalia and Woodward Table chef-restaurateur Jeffrey Buben; and Bryan Voltaggio of Volt, Range, and Family Meal.
The ten-city tour marks its fifth anniversary in 2013. It’s typically a boozy good time (especially the after-party, where the chefs and industry insiders really unwind), but this year the organizers have upped the ante for the big birthday. Guests can now sample five bourbons, including Breckenridge and Four Roses; tipples from a Manhattan bar; or a mezcal tasting section with samples from Ilegal, Mezcales de Leyenda, and Fidencio. The VIP-ers find a little extra with a new cocktail competition among six local barkeeps, as well as early entry (which can be worth it, given the 400-deep crowd), access to more spirits, and, for the first time, a tartare bar. Other fun treats include a cheese bar, a butchery demo from Alleghany Meats, porky desserts, and Fernet Branca digestifs.
The venue is still being determined, though representatives confirm the event will be in the District. Tickets are on sale now, starting at $125 for general admission and $200 for VIP. Check out our pictures from last year, including one of crown pork prince Scott Drewno of the Source, for a preview of what to expect.
It looks like San Francisco-based restaurateur/gentle god Michael Mina has called another of his lambs home. Eater DC brought word yesterday that Bourbon Steak chef Adam Sobel is leaving his post, which was confirmed to the Post today (don’t get some people started). It looks like that “big-ass going-away chef party” Mike Isabella tweeted about was for Sobel’s new gig as chef-partner at Mina’s wine-centric RN74 in San Fran.
This isn’t the first time Mina has taken talent back to the mothership. David Varley, the Bourbon Steak toque just before Sobel, left Washington for a corporate chef position in the Mina Group. The successful restaurateur has also attracted Washington toques from outside eateries. Pastry chefs Douglas Hernandez and Chris Ford left posts at Bibiana and Rogue 24, respectively, for Mina operations in the Four Seasons in Baltimore, while Nick Sharpe departed Ba Bay for a Mina title in California months before the Vietnamese spot closed.
Another chef drawn to the restaurant group: Sobel’s replacement, the current Urbana toque John Critchley, who starts his new position on March 18. What will the switch mean for the fine-dining hotspot? It’s too early to tell, but Critchley cites similarities with the Mina philosophy in a release, including a focus on seasonality, sustainable seafood, and local ingredients. As for Urbana’s kitchen, it’s time to polish up those chef résumés: A search for a new commander is in the works.
It looks like the Presidential Restaurant Group has selected a chef at its latest restaurant, Teddy & the Bully Bar—and no, it isn't Sam Kass. Word came this morning that former Jack Rose chef Michael Hartzer will take the lead on the American shared-plates menu. The restaurant was originally gunning for a inauguration-weekend opening, but it has been pushed back to the spring.