Grew up in: Vientiane, Laos.
How she learned to cook: “I loved to cook when I was little. I liked to go to the pond and do my own fishing. I’d take the small baby shrimp and make a salad with lemongrass, galangal, ginger, rice powder, fish sauce—that’s, like, the best thing ever. I was about ten.”
Favorite dish to make: “Nam khao, a crispy-rice salad. It’s considered one of the hardest recipes. I grew up eating it from a street vendor in Laos. I went back in 1995, and luckily the lady was still there, making nam khao. I tried to learn what ingredients she had in there. It took me many tries to get the right texture, to steam the rice the right way.”
Must-have condiment: “Fermented fish sauce. I learned to make it from my grandmother. It’s thicker than regular fish sauce. Not a paste, but thicker.”
Favorite restaurant: “Grace Garden in Odenton. They have one of the best chefs—he makes Szechuan dishes that I can’t find anywhere else, like a noodle that’s made out of fish.”
Chef/owner, Bayou Bakery in Arlington and on Capitol Hill
Grew up in: New Orleans.
Starter job: “I cooked on oil rigs—12 days on, 12 days off. They wanted meat and potatoes, they wanted carbs. Occasionally we’d make a box of Café du Monde beignet mix.”
Big break: “I met Jeff Tunks while working at the Windsor Court Hotel. Two years later, he offered me a position to move to DC and help open DC Coast.”
Favorite kitchen tool: “I absolutely adore a wooden spoon. I’m kind of on a quest to rid my kitchens of any metal spoons.”
Hardest part about running a restaurant: “I buy a lot of items from individuals. So Benton’s bacon we fly up from Madisonville, Tennessee. Edwards ham we fly in from Surry, Virginia. Peanuts come from Belmont farm in Southampton County, Virginia. My shipping and freight are what kill me.”
What’s next: Working on his third cookbook, about his Cuban heritage.
Chef/managing partner, Amoo’s Restaurant in McLean
Grew up in: Bukan, Iran; moved to Northern Virginia at age 13.
How he learned to cook: “Every day after high school, I’d come and work in my family’s restaurant. I’d wait tables and help them cook. When I turned 18, I decided to venture out. I was head chef at a restaurant in New York City, then at a restaurant in Miami.”
Favorite dish to eat on his menu: “Wild-caught Chilean-sea-bass kebabs. The cooking is very authentic Persian, but the fish itself is not, so the collaboration is neat.”
Where you’ll find him on his night off: “Martin’s Tavern in Georgetown. Not only because I love the food—the steaks and Guinness mussels—but it’s also the history.”
What’s next: “I have a restaurant opening in Gulfport, Florida. It’s on the beach, and we’ll have live bands playing every night.”
Chef/co-owner, Ruan Thai in Wheaton
Grew up in: Bangkok; moved here at 30.
First job in the States: Housecleaning. She then got a job at a Thai restaurant in Tysons.
How she learned to cook: “From her grandmother and her mom in Thailand.”
Ingredients she can’t live without: “Hot peppers and basil leaves.”
What she does when she gets home from work: “She watches Thai soap operas.”
* Translated through daughter Paveena Suchotinunt.
Chef/co-owner, DCity Smokehouse in Bloomingdale
Grew up in: DC’s Hill East.
Favorite condiment: “Chipotle-garlic mayo. Or any derivation of mayo.”
Favorite place to food-shop: “Union Market before it got all yuppie-ized. The older section of the market.”
What’s next: “We’re definitely looking to expand. A space for seating and a bar is the next step.”
This article appears in our June 2015 issue of Washingtonian.