New leaders are moving into the kitchens at Proof and Estadio after Haidar Karoum’s recent departure as the longtime executive chef at both eateries. While former Trummer’s on Main toque Austin Fausett has taken over at Proof, Estadio’s new exec is a familiar face at the popular 14th Street Spanish restaurant: former chef de cuisine Rufino Bautista, who’s been the daily point-man in the kitchen since opening in 2010.
Bautista worked his way up through Washington’s restaurants when he arrived from El Salvador in 1996, joining his parents and siblings who’d fled the country’s civil war and turmoil. Though he entered the industry through front-of-the-house positions, bussing tables and running food, he jumped into the kitchen at Asia Nora, following a passion for cooking that he’d discovered while growing up on his family’s farm outside Intipuca.
“In El Salvador men don’t do much cooking, especially on the farm,” says Bautista. “I was always intrigued, and when my sisters were cooking I’d sometimes jump in and make my own meals.”
From expeditor and then prep cook, Bautista worked his way up the line under Karoum, then Asia Nora’s head chef, and followed Karoum to Proof when the Penn Quarter restaurant debuted. Now as the executive chef at Estadio, he plans to change the menu more frequently than in the past while keeping the classics—that chicken isn’t going anywhere—and maintaining the same emphasis on local-when-possible, seasonal ingredients. The kitchen will also introduce shareable paella, made-to-order for parties of four, with three options: seafood, meat such as chorizo and chicken, or vegetarian.
“I was lucky to learn from the best guys,” says Bautista. “I’m pretty passionate, and you’re only going to be good at something if you love what you do.”