Last year was an eventful one for Stefano Frigerio. Over the summer, the native of Como, Italy, left his position as sous chef at Tysons Corner’s Maestro just before his mentor, Fabio Trabocchi, took off for New York. (The celebrated restaurant was subsequently shuttered; it’s expected to reopen this spring.) For the next few months, Frigerio commuted from his home in Loudoun County to Baltimore to run the kitchen of a new restaurant, but he continued to look for opportunities closer to the District.
A month ago, Frigerio found one. He has just taken over as executive chef at Mio (1110 Vermont Ave., NW; 202-955-0075), a sleek spot in downtown DC that got off to a rocky start when its first chef backed out weeks after the restaurant’s opening last May. To turn the kitchen around, Frigerio called in another former Maestro sous chef, Nick Stefanelli.
Frigerio has already revamped most of Mio’s Mediterranean-influenced menu, adding inventive Italian touches to such dishes as polenta ravioli filled with braised short ribs and roasted monkfish cheeks with butternut-squash-and-quinoa risotto. Beef carpaccio “del Maestro,” laden with quail eggs and preserved mushrooms, pays tribute to his much-missed former restaurant.
After a lunch service packed with Restaurant Week crowds—Mio is extending the promotion through January—Frigerio took a few minutes to chat about his favorite things, including the spit roast he constructed in his backyard, his go-to late-night sandwich, and the best advice Trabocchi ever gave him.
All-time favorite meal: “The first time I ate at the Fat Duck in London. I had sweetbreads cooked with hay in a salt crust, served with fennel pollen, celery-root purée, and cockles. I think it’s still on their menu. I love that dish. Every time I’ve been there, I always have it.”
Favorite dish to cook at home: “Spit-roasted chicken on the barbecue. I looked for a year for a spit roast to go on our old Weber grill. Finally, one day we were at Walmart and they had one. I built this contraption over the grill. The kids—ages eight and two—love it. My wife just loves grilled chicken with broccoli and rice. She also loves my rabbit casserole. What goes in it depends on the market. It can be asparagus, can be mushrooms, can be onions. Always fresh herbs—thyme and rosemary normally. Sometimes we put in spaetzle. My favorite is with spaetzle and mushrooms.”
Favorite dish from childhood: “My mom is a very, very bad cook. My grandma used to cook for us. The best thing she cooked was a typical lasagna, with homemade pasta, Bolognese sauce, and béchamel.”
Favorite guilty pleasure: “A piadina with speck, burrata, and arugula. That’s my junk food late at night. They sell it out of basically a van in Italy.”
Favorite fast-food place: “Fuddruckers is the only one I go to. I always got the ostrich burger, but it’s not on the menu anymore.”
Favorite local restaurant: “CityZen if it’s just me and my wife. With the kids, Pizzeria Paradiso. At CityZen, they just cooked for us and it was magic.”
Drink of choice: “A classic Negroni—one-third gin, one-third Campari, one-third dry vermouth.”
Surefire hangover cure: “Greasy pizza.”
Dessert or cheese plate? “Cheese plate. I don’t each many sweets. Unless it’s a piece of bitter chocolate, I’ll take the cheese.”
Favorite dish on your new menu at Mio: “The venison [grilled and served with cauliflower and anchovy purée, gin-juniper sauce, and agnolotti filled with braised venison]. It’s a fusion idea. We did a venison with gin-juniper sauce at Maestro, and I always loved it. And I loved the cauliflower with anchovies. I thought, ‘This would be good together.’ So I did it one day and realized I had a lot of little pieces of venison that I couldn’t use. So I braised them and filled the agnolotti on the side.”
Most memorable dish from Maestro: “Beef Rossini 21st Century. You take carpaccio, wrap it around a nice chunk of foie gras, and sear the beef. Make five little cylinders, and serve it with chanterelles, black truffles, a port reduction, and mashed potatoes. It’s served on a square plate with a bowl of sauce. So you take the beef, dip it in the sauce, and eat it. It’s five small bites. It’s a very good dish, very expensive to produce, and very difficult to cook. You need a very experienced person on the line.”
Favorite cookbook: “La Riviera by Alain Ducasse. It’s out of print, from the beginning of the ’90s. I have about 60 cookbooks, more or less. I tell my wife, ‘Don’t give away my cookbooks!’ ”
What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef? “I love food, and if I couldn’t be a chef, I think being a farmer would be the only thing I could do. It’s what I want to do when I retire. My family used to grow vegetables. We had our own chickens, our own rabbits.”
Who is your culinary mentor? What’s the best advice he or she gave you? “It’s a boring answer, but it would be Fabio Trabocchi. I worked for him for almost nine years, at three different restaurants in two different countries. He showed me a lot about how to behave in a kitchen, how to cook a certain way. The best advice he ever gave me was ‘Don’t trust anyone.’ It’s good advice in the kitchen.”