No.68 Project » Food A discourse in dining Wed, 23 Feb 2011 18:29:01 +0000 en hourly 1 Ed Witt Executive Chef/701 Tue, 22 Feb 2011 23:11:44 +0000 Number 68 Project

Binghamton, New York native Ed Witt is quickly establishing himself as one of the foremost champions of small, family farms. Raised on frozen vegetables and crock-pot dinners, Witt is now deeply committed to sourcing ingredients and places extraordinary value on determining the provenance and methods by which his meat, fish, poultry and produce are brought to market. A former resident of the Washington area by way of Damascus High School and later the University of Maryland, Witt brings his meticulous approach and attention to detail to back to Washington at 701 Restaurant, where the menu reflects an inventive approach to contemporary continental cuisine.

Ed Witt attended the Culinary Institute of America and began his culinary career as an extern at San Francisco’s Rubicon. He stayed to work with Chef Tracy Des Jardins. During his time in San Francisco, Witt learned a new, hands-on appreciation for the impact remarkably fresh ingredients have in a restaurant kitchen. Witt was later hired by Jardins to help open her restaurant, Jardinière, before moving on to San Francisco’s mc².

After his stint in California, Witt relocated to New York City where in 1998 he was part of the reopening team at Restaurant Daniel before earning himself a position as chef de cuisine at Nicole’s on the Upper East Side. In his role there, Witt ordered much of the restaurant’s ingredients from purveyors in upstate New York, further galvanizing his commitment to the area’s top farmers including Three Corner Field and Stone Church Farms. In 2002, the venerable River Café in Brooklyn recruited Witt to be sous chef where Witt enjoyed greater creative freedom, developing daily specials and contributing many of the menu’s seasonal dishes. Witt left the River Café in 2004 to become the executive chef at Il Buco and later at the short-lived but highly ambitious Varietal before making his way to Bloomingdale Road, where he also served as executive chef.

Witt made his way back to Washington in 2010 as executive chef to help open Morso in Georgetown. Then, in June 2010, Ashok Bajaj tapped him to be the new executive chef at 701 Restaurant.

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Peter Smith Chef & Owner/PS 7′s Fri, 18 Feb 2011 16:24:26 +0000 Number 68 Project

Smith “officially” began his culinary career at the Country Club of Fairfax in Virginia, at the age of 14. After three years, Smith moved to Pino’s, one of the top Italian restaurants in the area. Here, he expanded upon his experience, participating in menu planning, purchasing, preparation, catering and supervision of the kitchen staff. From Pino’s, Smith simultaneously worked at the Carlyle Grand Café restaurant in the neighborhood village of Shirlington, Virginia, while attending culinary school at L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, Maryland, under classically Swiss-trained Chef Francois Dionot. Following graduation, Smith took an externship at the Occidental restaurant in Washington, DC, where he met Chef Jeffrey Buben. Buben saw promise in Smith and the two formed a strong working relationship. When Buben left the Occidental in 1993 to open Vidalia restaurant, Buben invited Smith to join him. An invaluable asset to the Vidalia team, Buben named Smith Executive Chef after five years, at the age of 28. Jeffrey Buben and Vidalia received both local and national praise under Smith’s direction in the kitchen, including a James Beard Award in 1999.

Leaving the kitchen for a vacation in 2001 didn’t mean leaving the toque at home. The turn of the millennium took Chef Smith to Tibet and Nepal, where touring the country and experiencing its flavors took him to a special place at 17,000 feet. Smith tested out his culinary skills by using local products to make dinner for hikers at the Mt. Everest Base Camp.

In 2004, after 11 successful years at Vidalia, Smith left the famed southern-inspired restaurant to work on two projects: the birth of his daughter Lucy and the creation of a concept that would culminate his experiences with a modern edge. In the fall of 2006, Smith will open PS 7’s at 777 I Street, NW, in the ever-growing downtown Penn Quarter area of Washington, DC.

“I appreciate taking the most unusual of pairings visually and creating them mentally,” says Smith. “It often turns into the most delicious of flavor combinations.” Turning thought into food, Smith will present his version of Contemporary Modern Cuisine, with a whimsical touch. Serving mostly small plates and using farm-direct produce, highlights include the Torchon of Lobster with exotic melon, truffle gelée and roe wafer and Baby Carrot Terrine with horseradish foam, Muscat vinaigrette and red orach.

A fan of creating dishes in trios, examples include the Trio of Veal with barbequed ribs with molasses thyme veal jus, sautéed loin with wilted baby chard and braised breast with apricot and thyme jus. Another creation is Octopus Three Ways braised with red Thai curry, ceviche with yuzu, sake and red Chile granite and torchon with cilantro cucumber salad.

It comes down to innocence and adventure for this young diversified talent. At PS 7’s, Smith hopes to create a restaurant where he can express his creativity and flair for taking one ingredient and extrapolating as much from it as possible. Guests will experience Smith’s imagination with Lobster and Hen of the Woods mushrooms and unexpected ingredients like popcorn. In turn, Smith will take his experiences both past and present and turn them into a flavorful work of culinary history in DC.

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Justin Bittner Executive Chef/Bar Pilar Fri, 18 Feb 2011 15:19:26 +0000 Number 68 Project

Rising Stars: Bar Pilar’s Justin Bittner

Who: Justin Bittner, executive chef at Bar Pilar

Age: 30.

Why we chose him: He’s turned a drinking den into a dining destination with seasonal dishes—peaches with olive oil and sea salt, crispy potatoes with malt aïoli—that are simple but big on flavor.

Hometown: Baltimore, where he still lives.

Also worked at: Tio Pepe’s in Baltimore; the Elkridge Furnace Inn in Elkridge, Maryland.

Guilty pleasure: Crunchy tacos at Taco Bell.

Favorite cookbook: Ad Hoc at Home: “Thomas Keller’s recipes are perfect. For the fried chicken at Bar Pilar, we started with the Ad Hoc recipe. I also really like Momofuku and Simple French Food by Richard Olney.”

Kitchen disaster: “Recently I was trying to season a cast-iron pan. I put an inch of oil in it and cranked up the heat. I forgot about it, and it caught on fire. I had to throw it in the alley, and the sidewalk lit on fire, too.”

Most visited Web sites: “I don’t even know how to use Microsoft Word.”

Post-work drink: “Tecate beer and a shot of Jameson. The industry standard.”

Last meal: “I have no interest in caviar and foie gras. I’d have my mom’s lasagna.”

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Nicholas Stefanelli Executive Chef/Bibiana Fri, 18 Feb 2011 14:45:57 +0000 Number 68 Project

Maryland native Nicholas Stefanelli set his early sights on becoming a fashion designer intent on studying in Italy after graduating from high school in 1998. Instead, he fell in love with the foods of Italy while traveling extensively, appropriate given his Greek/Italian heritage, growing up with grandparents who raised their own produce and delighted in cooking and sharing experiences around the table.

To pursue his new dream, Stefanelli enrolled in L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, MD, graduating in 2001 to enter an externship at Galileo restaurant in Washington, D.C. After a few short months, he quickly rose to chef de partie at Galileo, and then went on to become the chef de partie of Laboratorio del Galileo, a exclusive dining room with a completely open kitchen tucked in the back of Galileo, where he crafted twelve-course tasting menus for the restaurant’s guests.

Then in 2003, he accepted the position of chef de partie at Maestro, the AAA Five Diamond, Mobil Four-Star Italian restaurant in McLean, Virginia where he remained until 2007, moving up to the position of sous chef, responsible for assisting with menu research and development, plus the daily kitchen operations. Working under Maestro’s James Beard award-winning chef Fabio Trabocchi, Stefanelli cultivated a talent for cooking and expanded his knowledge of the nuances of Italian cuisine. Trabocchi taught Stefanelli everything from understanding the regional culinary traditions of Italy, to sourcing rare ingredients; knowledge that continues to serve him well today. An able young chef, Trabocchi proclaimed Stefanelli as a rising star in the industry and encouraged him to stage at Thomas Keller’s world renowned French Laundry in California, which he did in 2004.

After four years at Maestro, Stefanelli next followed his famous mentor to New York City in 2007, and he was promoted to chef de cuisine at Trabocchi’s Fiamma restaurant. Fiamma earned a three-star rating from the New York Times during his tenure in the kitchen, and Stefanelli was able to establish his own cooking style in the process, blending the culinary heritage of Italy with his own modern sensibilities, crafting his own unique brand of gourmet artistry.

Stefanelli returned to Washington in early 2008 to cook and eventually lead the kitchen at Mio Restaurant downtown. Then in July 2009, Ashok Bajaj tapped him as the new executive chef to help develop the menu for Bibiana.

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Todd Gray Executive Chef & Owner/Equinox & Watershed Fri, 28 Jan 2011 05:45:59 +0000 Number 68 Project

Already a star chef when he opened Equinox, Todd Gray is a top culinary talent in the nation’s capital and an avid promoter of local, seasonal mid-Atlantic foods. Known for breathing new life into historical recipes, Gray developed Equinox’s distinct cuisine, enhancing Virginia-Piedmont ingredients and recipes with his classical training. His refined taste, stellar reputation and high standards landed him the culinary director position with BET co-founder Shelia Johnson’s Salamander Hospitality. There he is overseeing development and implementation of an elegant menu of regional Virginia specialty dishes for the 340-acre Salamander Resort & Spa, slated to open in Middleburg, Virginia in 2011.

Gray has earned many awards for his artistry and inspired menu combinations, including the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington’s (RAMW) 2008 award for Best Fine Dining; five nominations for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic award and eight nominations for RAMW’s Chef of the Year. Other honors include top ratings in the ZAGAT Guide Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence ten years in a row and numerous Awards of Excellence from the Distinguished Restaurants of North America.

Gray’s strong background in classical French and Italian techniques and proclivity for invention have also made him a popular teacher. Over the years, he has conducted cooking classes for youngsters and their families, including his recent initiative with the Murch school, as a early leading advocate of Michelle Obama’s ‘Chefs Move to Schools’ program. In 2010 Gray was hand-selected by The First Lady, Michelle Obama and White House Policy Advisory Chef Sam Kass to address a meeting of chefs with the First Lady from across the nation at The White House regarding his success with this program and the future of our children’s diet through education about food, health and nutrition. Gray has become a magnet and mentor to apprentices climbing the culinary ladder as well; in 2010 he was named Mentor of the Year by Star Chefs.Today, some of his former students are among top area chefs. Gray is also a leader and champion in support of humanely raised and slaughtered animals and works with local farmers to develop food of all varieties from custom-grown beef to fresh, organic produce.

Raised in Virginia, Gray studied at the University of Richmond, and graduated with honors from the Culinary Institute of America. Upon graduation, he worked in and staged with a number of fine dining restaurants including Galileo with Roberto Donna, Jean Louis at the Watergate and at Daniel with Chef Baloud where he honed his craft, philosophy and technique as one of the nation’s top chefs. Chef Gray has appeared on numerous television shows including a guest judge on Top Chef and Tyler Florence’s Food Network show, Tyler’s Ultimate.

The Gray’s will open their second location, Todd Gray’s Watershed, in DC in April 2011.

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Frederik De Pue Executive Chef/Smith Commons & 42˚Catering Wed, 26 Jan 2011 16:03:13 +0000 Number 68 Project

Chef Frederik De Pue is known throughout Washington DC’s dynamic food scene as an international trendsetter. He translates his global culinary experience through an eclectic, yet approachable menu at Smith Commons.

Born and raised in Belgium, Chef Frederik trained at the Hotel School Ter Duinen and worked at several top European restaurants. He worked under Chef Alain Ducasse at Louis XV and later became Sous Chef at Alain Chapel. In 1998, at age 21, he joined Yves Mattagne’s Sea Grill in Brussels and worked there for three years. In 2001, he traveled to Washington, DC to become the Executive Chef of the European Commission Delegation Ambassador. Chef Frederik was highly praised in the diplomatic circles where he would spend the next five years creating one of the most exceptional dining tables in the Embassy world.

Quickly inspired by his impressive guests, Chef Frederik recognized the opportunity to expand beyond DC’s Embassy Row. In 2007, he launched 42˚ Catering, naming the company after the 42nd parallel that connects many of the greatest gastronomic cities in the world. Since then, 42˚ Catering has served events ranging in size from intimate dinner parties to lavish society extravaganzas. Chef Frederik’s passion in the kitchen pushes him to find perfection in every dish he creates.

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Mike Isabella Chef & Owner/Graffiato Wed, 05 Jan 2011 19:15:19 +0000 Number 68 Project
Photo by Michael Bonfigli

Chef Mike Isabella is set to open his first restaurant, Graffiato, in the Penn Quarter neighborhood of Washington, DC in Spring 2011. The 150-seat Italian-inspired spot will feature snacks, small plates and artisanal pizzas with seasonal ingredients influenced by the food Chef Isabella grew up eating in New Jersey prepared by his Italian American grandmother.

Before opening Graffiato, Chef Isabella was the executive chef of Jose Andres’ Zaytinya. During his three-year tenure Chef Isabella generated accolades and national attention for Washington, DC’s Mediterranean powerhouse restaurant.

Chef Isabella’s formal training began at The Restaurant School in New York, taking classes and cooking his way through some of New York City’s finest establishments. After honing his skills in the Big Apple, he travelled down the coast to Philadelphia, first as a sous chef for James Beard award winner Douglas Rodriguez at Alma de Cuba, then a host of other Stephen Starr restaurants. At El Vez, Chef Isabella learned the true craft of Latin cuisine under the direction of Jose Garces, and as Executive Sous Chef of Marcus Samuelsson’s Washington Square, Mike educated himself on the strenuous yet exciting task of opening a fine dining establishment.

While Philadelphia proved to be an incredible learning experience and launching ground, Chef Isabella still needed to find his niche. That niche came when he moved to Atlanta and joined Buckhead Life Group’s top-notch Greek restaurant, Kyma. As Chef de Cuisine of the seafood-inspired menu, Chef Isabella learned the slight flavors and techniques of Greek cooking, as well as immersing himself in the traditions of one of the oldest cuisines in the world. While travelling through Greece and parts of the Middle East, Chef Isabella learned the nuances of these cuisines. Talking to locals and sifting through the daily markets gave Chef Isabella a chance to truly understand these foods, and helped to form a base for his culinary imagination.

Outside the kitchen, Chef Isabella recently appeared on Season Six of Top Chef. He didn’t win the jackpot in Las Vegas, but he is back for redemption on Top Chef All-Stars, premiering December 1, 2010. Tune in to Bravo Wednesdays at 10:00 pm to watch Chef Isabella in action.

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Jaime Montes de Oca, Jr. Executive Chef/Zentan Wed, 05 Jan 2011 19:10:17 +0000 Number 68 Project

Jaime Montes de Oca, Jr. is the Executive Chef of Zentan, Susur Lee’s newest global Asian restaurant located in Donovan House-a Thompson Hotel. As chef de cuisine, Montes de Oca leads the culinary team in turning out imaginative standouts such as the Singapore Slaw with salted plum dressing, Szechwan Style Half Duck with bean djan and lotus crepes, as well as a wide selection of Asian crudos, sushi, and sashimi.

Montes de Oca brings to the Donovan House a long history of hotel experience, having worked at prestigious institutions such as The Plaza, The Ritz Carlton and The Waldorf-Astoria.

Before opening Zentan in 2009, Montes de Oca collaborated with Chef Lee in opening Susur’s New York hot spot, Shang. He has also held posts at many New York Times rated establishments, such as Vong, La Grenuille, and Tocqueville, at which his focus was creating Modern American cuisine driven by Green Market produce. Throughout his culinary career Montes de Oca has learned from celebrated chefs such as Laurent Manrique, George Mendes and Jean-Geoges Vongerichten. Montes De Oca, Jr. is a 1990 graduate of New York Restaurant School.

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Wes Morton Executive Chef/Againn Wed, 05 Jan 2011 19:03:45 +0000 Number 68 Project

A native of Louisiana, Executive Chef Wes Morton is no stranger to comfort food, and returns to Washington DC to interpret his passion for fresh, local produce with a British influence.

After having worked at some of the fine kitchens of Washington DC such as Citronelle and CityZen, Morton took some time to explore other parts of the country, expanding his culinary horizons with a special focus on fresh, local ingredients. He staged at Thomas Keller’s world-renowned French Laundry in California, and also worked at other well-known establishments including The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay. Chef Morton was the Executive Chef of Alden Hotel in Houston, TX and received glowing reviews including four out of five stars from the Houston Chronicle in 2008, and further recognition as one of the Best New Restaurants in America by John Mariani in Esquire for the hotel’s restaurant *17.

For AGAINN, Morton explored Pennsylvania and Shenondoah Valley family farms, searching for the highest quality products to be featured, and also spent time in London where he got inspired for many of the items featured on the menu.

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