Gillian Clark: October 23, 2007 @ 11 AM

Gillian Clark, chef/owner of DC's Colorado Kitchen and author of new memoir Out of the Frying Pan, will take your questions while Todd Kliman is on vacation.

This Tuesday, October 23 at 11 AM, join the always funny, feisty Gillian Clark as she takes over the Kliman Online chat (wine and food editor Todd Kliman is on vacation in London, and you can ask him about his adventures in gastropubs and all things offal next Tuesday).

Clark is the chef/owner of Colorado Kitchen in DC's Brightwood Park. If you've ever stopped into the urban dinette for say, a cornflake-coated pork chop or a plate of sherry-glazed veal cheeks, you've seen her: She's a constant presence in the open kitchen. So how did the chef—and single mother of two daughters—have time to write a memoir? Out of the Frying Pan came out earlier this month. What's the deal with her forthcoming second restaurant in Silver Spring? And what's the secret to those delicious pork chops (and that fabulous fried chicken…and those chocolate-glazed brunch doughnuts)?

Well, its been fun. (Except for that guy from Potomac, MD….jeez what's you're problem, dude?)  I'm headed off to have lunch right now.  All of this food talk has made me a little hungry.  I hope all of you had fun, too.  Go out and get something to eat.  Its always one of the highlights of my day.  

If you do happen to be in the neighborhood, stop by CK.  I love talking food and talking about some of the issues we've touched on here.  We've had some great questions about race, culture, celebrity, and food.  

I hope all of you enjoy some good food today.  Tomorrow we're just going to be serving burgers and fried chicken because we'll be closed for the rest of the week and no sense getting a bunch of stuff delivered.  So we'll be at CK searing burgers and slowly frying that yummy fried chicken.  Stop by and have some and come introduce yourself.  Even the dude from Potomac, MD.  Maybe we can figure out what your deal is, man. 

There are a lot of recipes in the book, OUT OF THE FRYING PAN. But there are more in my head.  If there is anything you have a question about you can call the restaurant or shoot me an email.  Thanks for spending a minute with me today.  its been fun. 

university park
I'm tired of chefs as 'celebrities,' or 'artists.' It's food. It's not art.I think this is the work of men, this pumping up of the chef. Almost always, they are men who get celebrated. Enough!

Good Morning, folks.  Gillian Clark here in for Todd who I hear is in London today.  Yes, I'm a little jealous.  I actually have never been to Europe.  I've traveled the Caribbean and Canada.  Drove across the grand ol' US of A  couple of summers ago in an RV with three dogs and two teenagers.  I like to say that we ate across America and it was a changing experience.  But on my next big vacation I would love to eat across Europe.

The little intro said that I am "funny & feisty".  I hope to be more funny this morning and get some of you folks to chuckle a little with me here in answering your questions about me, my book, Colorado Kitchen, the food business, and anything else that may come to mind.

 I often hear this question or statement sent in by a long time listener first time caller who is sick of this whole celebrity chef nonsense.  Although I agree with most of this statement.  I agree that it is food that I work with.  But I use food as a way of expressing myself and making a point and taking people somewhere.  So in this very blue collar thing that I do, I believe that in a way food is my art–my way of expressing myself.  However, I also can not just perform when the muse hits me.  I have to show up for work and put up a great product no matter how I am feeling.  I am lucky enough to have a muse that hits me and I come up with something that I think is pretty cool.  As I'm drifting off to sleep usually.  Last year it was the rosemary and onion creme brulee that came into my head.  Like an artist those kinds of things come to me, however much of my job is science.  I have to figure out how I'm going to make it work with the eggs and cream and just the right amount of onion flavor and how to incorporate the rosemary.  But like a business woman, I have to think about how to price it so that it sells and so that it helps me pay my light bill over there on Colorado Avenue.

 I think people are anxious to get behind a figure–man or woman–who captures our imagination.  There are a lot of charismatic chefs that are able to do that.  They move on to other things like TV shows and the like.  Or they become giants in the business.  I think many of us would like to have that happen in our lives.  You go from the hot kitchen to the TV studio your days of struggling are over and you can sort of rest on your laurels.  I'm in my mid-40's so I know that my time behind the stove is limited.  I have the fantasies just like most of us in this business that I go around in a clean chef coat and never get burned by a pot handle again.  I've been cooking for about 15 years now.  I have mastered a great bit of those behind the stove skills.  Many of you have watched me feed a dining room full of people at Sunday Brunch in about 52 minutes.  I'd like to pass those skills on to the next generation of cooks and chefs.  

So I understand how celebritizing chefs happens.  But I don't think any of us are naive enough to think of ourselves as artists.  Just folks trying to get on with our careers and go to the next level.   Did I answer that? 


Hello, chef Clark! I remember reading an article about your restaurant by Todd Kliman a few years ago that made me curious to visit your restaurant, which I really enjoy. I was fascinated by your cultural consciousness, I guess you could say, in particular your discussion of the concept of the "nurse bottle." You said that both black people and white people have their nurse bottles, the things they need at a restaurant to feel comfortable. I don't remember what they were, unfortunately. Could you speak to that idea again, and about the role of being comfortable at meal time as it relates to class and race? If you're not all typed out, maybe you could share your recipe for green goddess dressing? Thanks! Sarana

Hi Sarana,

That is a very interesting issue.  As a black person living in this country as a first generation American who also grew up in NY in a Jewish community I find race to be a fascinating topic.  And the issue varies from state to state.  Living in NY it was not uncommon for black and white people to frequent the same restaurant.  However, working in DC I find that a lot of dining is segregated.  Colorado Kitchen is one of the few places in town where folks of all races seem to come and feel comfortable eating.  In the beginning I often had people ask me if the place was black owned.  This is a question I hate.  Although I support Affirmative Action in helping kids get into colleges that they might not otherwise be considered.  Or to increase diversity in the work place.  I don't want black people to feel that they need to eat lousy food because they want to support a black owned restaurant.  I hope that you eat at CK because I'm doing a good job and making good food.  

I think people come in to the restaurant and are surprised to have a white server.  We've had people leave.  I don't know whether the prevalence of the bullet proof carryouts in black neighborhoods have made black folks uncomfortable with the human interaction.  But that is why we don't do carryout and we pissed a lot of people off.  One woman accused me of not accommodating my race.  

I would like to think that little ol' CK has helped change dining in DC in helping all races in this city to break bread together.  Not grabbing their food and going to eat it in their car.  I had a hair dresser once confess to me that she had never spoken to a white person in her entire life.  YIKES.  Could you imagine.  And I'm sure for many of the kids I went to college with, I was the first black person they ever spoke to.  I think this is what we need to build understanding.

The funniest thing about working at Colorado Kitchen…owning it and cooking there… is that there were a lot of black people that assumed I was working for my business partner Robin and would slip me a five or something.  Or they would tell her that she was a great chef.  Mind you, much more white people assumed I was just hired to cook there and Robin was the chef.  Some people would actually gesture for me to move out of the way so that they could compliment the chef.  Attitude adjustments on all sides are being made.  We all need to believe in the potential of ourselves and in each other.  I think we are helping to change that in DC.  People come in to CK and see black and white people working as a team (and taking orders from that big black woman in the white hat).  And I like to see my dining room full of the mix that makes DC what it is.


Green Goddess

Juice of three lemons, 1/2 cup of parsley, 1/3 cup of cider vinegar, 3 avocados (peeled & pitted), 4 to 5 cups of Olive Oil (pure), 1/4 cup heavy cream, s & p…all of it in a blender.


This is my green goddess…not the classic. 




Washington, DC
Dear Chef, Inquiring minds want to know: who is your favorite server at CK?
Sheesh…that's like asking me which is my favorite daughter.  I love them all for all different reasons.  Even the ones I yell at.  i love.  I wouldn't yell at them if I didnt care.
What's the best private dining room in DC to host a small (15 guests) surprise birthday party for a CEO type? Most of the attendees live in other cities outside of Washington. Merci beaucoup!
Tough one for me to answer.  I know that Johnny's Half Shell has a private room.  Equinox also does those kind of functions.  Colorado Kitchen can let you have the whole restaurant only Mon and Tues, but there is a minimum
Are you a cookbook fanatic? Which are your favorites from the past few years? Which are your favorite classics?
i love cookbooks.  And I thank Susan Lindeborg for always thinking of me when she went to the country and to the antique book stores for a fairly good collection of old ones.  I love Madeline Kamam's the Making of a Cook…a must read.  Everything is in there.  it is my bible.  Also James Peterson is the greatest.  I have all of his books.  He is a scientist with I hope to be.  (I was pre-med in college).  I also bought Judy Rodgers book years ago.  I think she is the greatest.  And if you've been to the ladies room at CK you know how I feel about Judy.  Her picture is right by the thrown.  She has been my inspiration in cooking simple food to the highest level.
silver spring
what is the secret to great fried chicken if you are making it at home?
Now here's your chance to run over to Politics and Prose and get a copy of the book Out of the Frying Pan.  My fried chicken recipe is in there with the secret.  I also just signed a bunch of copies last night for them.
Takoma Park, MD
What will your new restaurant be like–similar to Colorado Kitchen? What kind of food will it serve? When are you planning on opening?
The new restaurant will have a more relaxed feel than Colorado Kitchen.  There will be carry out and a funky pub in the basement with pizza. Robin has been forced into a stronger baking role than she imagined at CK and she really is enjoying it.  So she will spend some time at the General Store baking pies.  There will be big old boxes of fried chicken to eat in or take home.  Casseroles of all kinds and a plethora of sandwiches.  We will be open longer hours and more days than CK and have a Sunday brunch there too.
What was it like writing your new book? How long did it take you?
Many of you know that I am the mother of two girls that were very little when I started this cooking thing.  And I was on my own and had them in the restaurants with me when I didn't have a sitter.  So they have been raised by a village let's say.  So they can be a bit quirky.  That may be my influence too I guess.  The original title was going to be ARE THESE FREAKS REALLY MY CHILDREN.  i used to threaten them with that book when they would come home and tell me something outrageous that they did at school.  I talked it over with my agent and they loved the idea. Then when i got down to writing it they were curious about how it all started…me leaving marketing and communications and winding up as a chef and single mother.  They insisted I focus on that story and write a narrative.  It is all true so it was easy to write–relatively speaking.  I think it took about two years….but 8 months solid once I had the book deal.  I had 10 pages of notes that I turned into 300 pages of book.  A deadline from a publisher combined with a great editor will do that to you.
Washington, DC
Hello chef Clark. I've really enjoyed every meal I've had at your restaurant! When you have a day off and get to dine elsewhere, where do you go?

I eat my own cooking a lot.  So I eat a lot of American food. When I leave here I am going to have sushi at Sakana.  when I have a full day to hang out I love to go to Johnny's Half Shell and have Ann's Gumbo.  I could live on it.  Then I've got to have whatever cake or pie or something Valerie Hill has made.  I also love good Thai and Vietnamese.  I love Thai Derm in Silver Spring. I eat there at least 3 times a month.  I also like some of the new little taqueria's around.  My neighbor owns Disitro Federal on 14th street.  Now one of my new favorites.  I also like to drive out to the far reaches and eat what the locals are eating.  It may not be the most technically exacting food but sometimes the hash slinger is gifted, sometimes not.  I consider it a blessing when I score the great little place with the only ambition is to make great food and feed people.

I plan on going back to Nashville for Prince's Hot Chicken.  And back to Amarillo for this little shack that makes the best Frito Pie and BBQ ribs that I have ever had in my life.




Chevy Chase, MD
Gillian, What time do I have to arrive for brunch at Colorado Kitchen on a Saturday or Sunday to avoid lines?? 🙂

Saturday is still the best day to avoid lines for Brunch although we have been surprised a couple of times.  Redskins games usually mean we get busy early.  If you come at 1pm on a Sunday of a 1pm 'Skins game you're in good shape.  The line usually forms at 10:30 and sometimes you can get in to that first seating.  We've stopped seating the entire dining room at once because it winds up crashing the system.  The servers get harried and the kitchen gets overwhelmed.  So even if you are among the first 30 in line you may have to wait 15 minutes more, sorry.  We find if we can feed the first 18 to 20 we can get to the next 18 or 25 that much faster.

I look out into the crowd and see a few first timers and I see how scared they are.  Some of them are straining their necks to see if there is another room in the back…Nope its just 15 tables, 48 seats, and 750 square feet.  But we can feed 160 of you from 11 to 2:30.  We move it along and we get you your food fast.  You may wait 25 minutes to sit and less if we can avoid that, hopefully once you sit down you'll have a hot cup of coffee and hot donuts in less than 4 minutes.

Gillian – You've been rather outspoken on some of the foodie chat boards such as Don – do you feel these sites and the publicity they get as tastemakers serve a positive function for restaurants and their customers, or a mixed benefit, or do you hate them altogether? Or do you ever just wish restaurant critics would shut up and let you go about your business?

I think the food sites serve a function.  I love that people are so moved by food that they talk about it and huddle about it.  I love that.  I think critics should be critics and not consumer advocates though.  I think we all need to understand how restaurants work.  People pick on CK specifically because of our seating policies.  And they are often really angry.  If they are not on the food sites they are in my face at the restaurant yelling at me.  So I am going to hear it in some form or another.  I try and be light hearted about it and tell a joke on the sites and I think I am often mis-interpreted.  I think we can all take it down a notch and not hurl personal attacks or judgments.  CK is my house.  I spend a lot of time there and I made it.  So I am a little attached to the place.  Its hard for me…although I try…not to take attacks personally.  We do the best we can with our 15 tables.  And it means sometimes you have to wait for a table.  People don't like that, especially if there are two of them and a table for four is open.  We have to save that table for four.  Because then the folks that wanted to sit there before are going to get pissed and then the next two is going to want to sit at a four….you see how it goes.  Then we have a long line of fours and twos and people leaving and we go out of business. 

It is a business as much as it feels like fun to all of us.  And it is a tough business.  I helped my daughter with a project she was doing on the food industry and was shocked to learn (you see moms and dads  we do school all over again don't we).  According to the Restaurant Assoc.  we get to keep just .05 of every $1 that comes in.  No other business can claim that low a figure.  So we have to make it work for us so that we please the greatest number of people.  I know…you are the two of you and you two are trying to have a good time.  But I've got to worry about the other 46 people sitting in the room too.

I like the blogs and food sites.  I think I've made a lot of friends.  I may have made some enemies but that is only because they don't know me.  Sometimes I'm trying to have fun in an exchange about food and I find that the people get angry at me.  Some have said some vicious things about me.  I think when you're hiding behind an avatar folks can slough off their human skin and be some evil-Kirk or something.  Not me.  I'm Gillian Clark on all of those blogs and food sites.  I just want folks to be fair.  I read them and I listen.  There was talk of my grits being to salty and I realized it was because I changed the cheese I was using.  Well, I made the adjustment.  I'm always looking to do good by customers and potential customers.  I want to get better.  I want CK to be better, always.  If you're not getting better, you're getting worse.

 The Post Dining Guide and the City Paper picked on us for having "rules" and "signs".  We have those because children are sometimes running around.  One little girl almost ran into Robin as she was taking hot pans full of oil to the dishwasher.  Yes, this little girl was in the kitchen.  I am always finding gum under the tables…not pleasant.  And we've lost several salt and pepper shakers.  Sometimes folks are appalled by the pink in their pork chop or salmon.  We wanted to explain why that might be and not be condescending.  Okay, I have this crazy sense of humor.  I like to share it and have fun with my menu.  Just hoping y'all would get it.  You don't have to pretend you're a termite to get well done food.  I do it.  Just ask.

Bloomingdale, Washington DC
Your restaurant has such a special diner look and feel inside, and I'm curious if you were inspired by any specific diners along the way. Do you have a favorite all-nighter one in Washington or outside the city? Also, that fun collage all over the bathroom walls– did that stem from a certain place?
Actually, CK is Aunt Jemima's bandana in three dimensions.  The chairs and tables are patterned after my Grandmother's eat-in kitchen.  She wasn't the greatest cook, but I felt more love at that table than anyone can imagine.  I love to eat late and find there is not much food happening in the wee hours in town.  So I have not established a favorite place yet.  I would love to do one.  We had a crazy idea to be open from midnight on New Years one year.  What a flop.  We were up all night and no one came until 8 am.  Robin was going to kill me for that one.  The collage on the bathrooms was inspired by my own collection of torn out recipes.  We had some flooding in the basement at home and I was sick of worrying about them.  We bought some other things to supplement, and then we've included some New Yorker cartoons.  I was a big fan of Craig Claiborne, Molly O'Neill, and Ruth Reichl growing up in NY.  Some of those articles are from 1982.
U Street, Washington DC
How does it feel to be called a "memoirist" in addition to mother, chef, NPR commentator, all-around awesome woman. Did you always have the writers bug?

Yes.  I started writing poetry in 3rd grade and wrote for the school newspaper through college.  I wanted Russel Baker's job as the Sunday Observer to the New York Times magazine.  I wrote short stories a lot and never got anything published so I gave up.  Then the NPR opportunity came along and I found myself writing again.  What is interesting about the NPR pieces they had to be 600 words and no more.  That takes a lot of discipline.  But I've always been a story teller.  And that helps.  For the memoir I credit that to being a really shy kid.  I'm the youngest of five and didn't talk much.  i would go all day without saying a word (I know you don't believe me…ask my sisters and brothers).  Honest.  One teacher complained that i would tap her on the shoulder if I needed anything.  It drove her crazy.  But it made me an observant person.  i kept my mouth shut all day and listened and watched.

I remember telling my mother that I wanted to be a writer and she said that I would starve.  So I enrolled in Johns Hopkins University ready to become a doctor.  But i was busy on the Radio Station, writing for the magazine and the newspaper…no time for school.  

I hope that I have shown my daughters that race and gender can't stand in your way.  Just do what you want to do.  If someone has a problem with your race and gender it is their problem, don't make it yours.  I know that my race and gender have not made it easy, but I refused to take no for an answer.  If you believe in your gift you have to step aside the ones that can't accept it.  It may take you longer to move forward, but you will get there. 


Europe Virgin 🙂
Morning Gillian, I’m hoping you or other chatters today can help. Leaving for Europe in a week and will be in Paris for 4 days. I appreciate good food (love French food), and wondering if you have any experience or suggestions for any “must try” restaurants in Paris. I know their 3-star is by far different than our 3-star in the DC area, and since the Euros are much much higher, but we’re willing to break the bank for “a” memorable meal there. Michel Rostang, Alain Ducasse, Joel Robuchon, Guy Savoy come to mind. Have you dined at these places? Although Ducasse & Savoy might be way way out or our range ($200+/plate?), but Rostang & Robuchon are more doable….thanks!
He may hate that i tell you this but Francois at L'academie always has his finger on the pulse.  I know people call him all of the time.  All of those places you mentioned…you really can't lose.  
Petworth, DC
Hi Chef: I am leaving DC for California and one thing I will certainly miss is dining at Colorado Kitchen. For those of you who haven't taken the time to eat there yet…you don't know what you are missing. Currently your menu features little plates & big plates which is fantastic…sometimes you aren't too hungry and other times you are. Do you see a change in your format in the future or do you think this is a formula that is here to stay for CK?
mmmm  California.  In and Out Burger…my favorite.  No…big food, small food is here to stay.  I think certain things can't be entrees, like casseroles, crab cakes, my lobster things.  I like the small food option it gives me more flexibility to do food I want to do an not try an make a meal out of it.  it's liberating.
Potomac, MD
Can you self promote any more?

I think I can.  Give me a few more minutes.  I can self promote myself until blood comes out of your eyes.  Is it bothering you?  If I don't promote myself who will?  Actually, I do have a publicist with my publisher so I know she is working on it.  So I take that back.  Courtney and I will be promoting Gillian Clark until you can't stand it.   

I guess if you ask me a question about another person i can promote them too.   

Saving Room for Dessert
What dessert at Colorado Kitchen do you save room for?
Definitely have the pineapple upside down cake.  It is the only place in town that serves it.  Take it home.  But the pie is also really good.  Sweet Potato is what we're doing lately.