When we interviewed chefs anonymously for a survey in our 100 Very Best Restaurants cover story, one recurring response was that Washington needs more homegrown restaurants and fewer celebrity-chef imports and national chains.
“The corporate guys suddenly decided to open in DC after they have ten outposts elsewhere,” said one. “It’s almost insulting.”
“Support local farms? Support local restaurants!” argued another.
One of the few exceptions the chefs made was the Source by international restaurateur Wolfgang Puck, he of the frozen-food aisle and airport-express outpost. (Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak and J&G Steakhouse by Jean-Georges Vongerichten also won praise.) The reason? “They have young, great chefs,” one of the interviewees explained.
The talent of the executive chef on the ground—in the Source’s case, Scott Drewno—certainly affects the local standing of a celebrity’s export. Drewno has become the face of—and the force behind—the restaurant as much as Puck. Unlike many unrecognized cooks at the helm of a large venture, Drewno designs menus, leads cooking demos, and is a regular presence at charity fundraisers.
During a recent luncheon at the Newseum, where Puck and Drewno cooked together for a small gathering, Puck said, “It’s his own restaurant.” As the grandfather of celebrity chefdom, Puck elaborated on what makes a star-owned spot shine, and it has a lot to do with giving up power: “I don’t run a dictatorship,” he said. “Scott has the liberty to put new things on the menu, which I think keeps him interested.”
Puck’s number-one rule for his ventures is simple—literally: “Buy the best ingredients, and try not to f— them up.” In DC, he said, it doesn’t hurt that the Source has a prime location near the Mall, though he joked that the Newseum hid the restaurant in back when he wanted it to be up front. He also jested (or was he serious?) that he originally wanted a steakhouse for the space. Instead of competing with restaurants such as Charlie Palmer Steak for the well-worn territory, Puck went with modern, Asian-inspired cuisine.
“You must do it different, and do it well,” said Puck.
Follow the Best Bites Bloggers on Twitter at twitter.com/bestbitesblog