There’s been plenty of buzz over the chef shuffle at 1789 restaurant, where after three years leading the kitchen, Daniel Giusti is leaving for Copenhagen to work at Noma. His spot was filled quickly: Casa Nonna sous-chef Anthony Lombardo is set to take the helm on August 31. We spoke with Lombardo about the cooking test that landed him the job, Kanye West, and his love of cupcakes.
How did you know Dan Giusti? We hear he tapped you for the job.
“We’re longtime friends. We went to the Culinary Institute of America together, and then to a Slow Food designated cooking school in Italy. We were also roommates for a year in Alexandria.”
Your cooking background is mainly Italian—you spent four years as chef de cuisine at Bacco Ristorante in MIchigan and also worked at Galileo here in DC. Is your family Italian?
“I come from an Italian family in Detroit. My mother is first generation from Abruzzo, and my dad from Sicily. Professionally they weren’t cooks, but Sundays were always a feast at grandma’s house. It’s a blue collar automotive-based family, but I always ended up making food with my mother instead of fixing up cars with my dad.”
So why the switch from Italian to American?
“I knew I wanted to get away from it and become more well-versed as a chef. It’s a great chef job, and [1789 is] very farm-to-table. People think of that as a hippie environment where you can walk into a place wearing sandals, but 1789 is dressed up farm-to-table. You plan your outfit three days before you go eat there.”
Do you share Giusti’s approach?
“I have the same philosophy as Dan: basically utilizing everything as local as possible, and not getting too crazy with techniques. Keep it fresh, delicious, and simple. We’re both Generation-Y chefs that want to be in a fine dining environment, but also like to head out to the farms and listen to Kanye West.”
But can you eat like Giusti?
“[Laughs] I try to eat as healthy as possible. I don’t get to cook much Asian at work, so I like to eat sushi or make fried rice on my day off. But if I don’t eat pasta and red sauce for a couple weeks, I’ll literally start to shake.”
What was involved in proving yourself for the position?
“I ate at 1789 a couple of times, and after the last meal there I had a drink with Dan at the Tombs downstairs, and that’s where it all started snowballing. I got the job by doing a tasting for Tom Meyer [the president of Clyde’s Restaurant Group]. I had two-and-a-half hours to use whatever was in the walk-in, and I made six dishes. There were hot and cold apps, an artichoke soup shooter, lamb sausage that I made, and a roasted halibut over grilled fennel with crispy okra and corn broth. I’d like to put that on the menu as a nice end-of-summer dish.”
What would you make for friends at home?
“Risotto, definitely. I just bought a sushi kit, so I might pick up fresh fish from the market. I like baking pies, and eating them for breakfast. I’d make an apple pie, get a perfect crust with lard, and definitely add ice cream.”
When you do indulge, what’s involved?
“Everyone is obsessed with cupcakes, and now I am too. I hadn’t had one since I was 12, and then I moved to DC and there’s a cupcake place on every corner. I love them. My favorite is Georgetown Cupcake.”
What are your favorite ingredients right now?
“Corn, swiss chard—because in the summer it’s blind-your-eyes-bright—and rockfish. I know it’s on everybody’s menu, but that’s because its so good here.”
What about favorite tunes in the kitchen?
“I like hip-hop, R&B, and Motown. For artists all the Detroit guys: Eminem, the White Stripes, Kid Rock. But not in the kitchen, I keep it pretty professional.”