Chemel, a native of central France, worked for several French chefs before coming to the States in 1999 to work for Boulud at his New York flagship, Daniel, where he rose to sous chef. He then spent two years under Laurent Tourondel (proprietor of BLT Steak, among others) at the now-closed Cello.
After nine years in New York, Chemel says he was craving a change—and he found one, trading the Upper East Side for the woods of Fairfax. He now lives in McLean with his wife and 17-month-old daughter.
Chemel has already rolled out 2941’s new menu, which includes such luxe-sounding dishes as kona kampachi sashimi with Calvisius caviar, foie gras terrine with persimmon chutney, and braised beef with fresh black truffles. He says to expect lots of changes, not just seasonally but weekly.
Here he shares some of his personal food favorites, including the rustic French fare he misses from childhood, the Maldon salt he loves “on anything,” and the staples of his home fridge.
Favorite meal from childhood: “My mom used to do a very traditional country potato pie, served with crème fraîche. And crepes, just with homemade jam. Very simple.”
Favorite dish to cook at home: “I do a lot of very healthy vegetable dishes for my daughter. I love Mediterranean cuisine, so I do kind of a ratatouille. I love braising vegetables. She’s very young, and I never give her any precooked meal—she only eats fresh vegetables. My wife loves fish and tartares.”
Must-have items in your fridge: “French butter and chocolate. And cheeses. Good-quality French or American cheeses. No cheddar, no cream cheese.”
Favorite dessert: “I love tiramisu. And I love sundaes—with peanut butter, salty brittle, and chocolate.”
Favorite junk food: “In New York, I liked late-night pizza and Middle Eastern sandwiches like a gyro or shish kebab.”
Favorite drink: “I love wine more than cocktails. Burgundy would be my first choice.”
Favorite Washington-area restaurant: “Not enough time yet—I’ve been so busy. I had a very good meal two or three years ago at Equinox, when I was just visiting.”
Favorite dish on your new menu at 2941: “I love pasta, so I would say the risotto Milanese [with braised veal cheeks, saffron, and watercress] and the smoked maple-glazed pork chop [with Jerusalem artichoke, rutabaga, and apple-celery salad]. Some recipes I have used in the past, some are new, but right now I just want to get the team stronger. We are changing the idea of 2941. It’s going to be very seasonal, with a weekly tasting menu. For the first two months, we’ll stay the same to be very consistent. Then we can change it more often.”
Favorite spice: “It’s not really a spice, but I love Maldon sea salt on anything. My favorite spice would be either fennel or coriander.”
What’s the best advice Daniel Boulud gave you? “He told me, ‘We never say no to a guest. Everything is possible. We never give up.’ ”
Do you have a culinary mentor? “Michel Gaudin. I worked for him in Megève, France. He decided to stop everything and open his own little restaurant in the mountains between France and Switzerland. I learned a lot from him. He sent me to Hotel du Rhône in Geneva, where they would bring chefs from all over the world, each month a different chef. Each time I used to be off, I would go there for three or four days to learn Thai cuisine, Indian cuisine. Even now, I can call him and he’ll help me. I worked for him four years, and one day I told him I wanted to travel. He said, ‘Where do you want to go?’ I said, ‘New York.’ Three weeks later, I had a job offer from Daniel Boulud. He knows chefs all over the world. When I needed my green card, he called Roland Mesnier, the pastry chef at the White House. Mesnier wrote a letter that I gave to my lawyer, and I got a green card.”