Three weeks ago, Daniel Bortnick took over from John Wabeck as executive chef of Firefly in Dupont Circle. The 30-year-old Rockville native most recently cooked at Poste in Penn Quarter and Mendocino Grille in Georgetown, but he’s spent time in kitchens all over the place—from San Francisco to New Orleans to Peru.
Bortnick’s first cooking job was at a small cafe while he was at the University of Wisconsin: “It was just burgers, chicken sandwiches, and french fries, but that’s when I realized, this is what I want to do.” After graduating, he headed off for culinary school, and now he’s running his own kitchen for the first time at Firefly. About half of his new menu has been unveiled (Old Bay crab dip with crusty bread; half smokes with kraut; Oysters Rockefeller with herb butter), and the full transformation should be complete by April 18. We caught up with him for a few minutes to learn about his passion for cookies and the hearty hangover-cure breakfast he swears by.
All-time favorite meal: The French Laundry–I don't think it will ever get better than that. That was the epitome, the first time I went there. I went back once, and the food was just as good, but the first time was so mind-blowing.
Favorite dish from childhood: We used to have a very regular schedule: bring in pizza every Wednesday, every Friday was Shabbat dinner. Once a week was spaghetti and meat sauce, and I liked that because I got to make the meat sauce. I tried to make it better every week.
Favorite junk food: Cookies. Chocolate chip or peanut butter. My wife won’t let me bring them in the house anymore, because I eat them all.
Favorite fast food place: Chipotle is the only one I’ll eat. They say they’re doing the right thing—Niman Ranch pork and all. I will go there because of that.
Favorite local restaurant: Most recently, Mama Ayesha’s, which is right by where I live. We always get the same thing: menzaleh and stuffed squash. Menzaleh is a ground lamb and fried eggplant dish–like their version of lasagna.
Coffee or tea?: Coffee. The only tea I drink is sweetened Lipton powdered tea. Guilty pleasure.
Dessert or cheese plate?: Cheese plate. The only dessert I ever order is cookies.
Favorite cocktail: Bombay Sapphire martini.
Favorite sandwich: I have three, in no particular order. Reuben, Cuban, and muffaletta.
Favorite condiment: There's this honey mustard—Honeycup brand. It’s the best for dipping pretzels.
Favorite veggie: Cooked mushrooms.
Least favorite: Raw mushrooms.
Favorite midnight snack: That’s usually when I have dinner.
Okay, I meant favorite late-night snack: It’s sourdough pretzels and Honeycup mustard.
Favorite hangover cure: A mushroom-and-cheddar omelet, hash browns, rye toast, coffee, orange juice, and a bloody mary.
Favorite dish on your menu at Firefly: It would have to be the meatballs with tomato sauce. It’s a small plate of three little meatballs, made from ground beef, pork, veal, and bacon.