Exclamation Chef : Enzo Fargione : Elisir

This week’s !Chef is Enzo Fargione of Elisir!

! Chef Enzo Fargione

Growing up in Torino, Italy, Chef Enzo learned to love cooking via his mother’s example at a very early age and has never stopped. At fourteen, he enrolled in The Professional Culinary Institute in Turin, Italy and finished at the top of his class. In 1986, after having worked in numerous restaurants, fate would play a hand in his future: though only seventeen, the Chef packed his bags and became the first head Chef at the Little Italy Gourmet in San Diego California. A few months later, he joined Galileo restaurant as head chef in Washington, DC. and ran a four star kitchen.Between then and now, Enzo has earned success and respect in the culinary world while working and owning numerous and successful Washington DC restaurants such as Donna Adele, the Radicchio restaurant chain, the acclaimed fine dining Barolo on Capitol Hill, the Italian tapas restaurant concept Atrium in West Palm Beach, Florida and working as Executive Chef/Consultant at Teatro Goldoni restaurant.

Throughout the years he has earned two nominations for The Chef of the Year by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington; won a few national awards and was recognized by magazines and newspapers across the country for the authenticity and for his approach to modern Italian cooking as well as his playful inventiveness.

With unflagging energy, Chef Fargione still finds time to teach cooking classes where he passes on his personalized vision of modern cooking as well as attending and supporting local charity events with his fellow chefs. Chef Enzo is an active and proud member of the James Beard Foundation where he regularly cooks and appears in its kitchen in New York City.

Are there any family influences on your style and taste?

My Mother…only on taste my style is my own developed over many years.

When did you realize you really were a chef?

At heart when I was 3 years old.  Professionally I am still trying to get there as no one will ever know everything.

What are some things you do that keep you growing professionally?

The continuous search for taste, combination of ingredients and concept on the plate.

Your favorite drink/cocktail?

Golden Margarita on rocks no salt.

What is your favorite night at your restaurant? Why?

A busy Saturday dinner.  Adrenaline runs fast in all of us during service.

Who would you love to have prepare a meal for you?

My grandmother….one last time as she’s 94.

What is something about you that people would find surprising?

I write poetry and lyrics for songs.

What would your last meal on earth be, where would you have it, and with whom?

At home, with family, friends and people I love.  Food would be unimportant.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to a person who cooks as a hobby?

Love it.

What has been your funniest kitchen incident?

I aced the dishwasher to wash organic rabbit we just received by a farmer as they had a small slimy natural coat on them.  He ran them through the dishwasher machine….they were clean alright: medium rare, sanitized and rinsed!

What is your favorite ingredient?

Don’t have one.

What is your favorite item on your menul?

Reginetta pasta stuffed with duck ragu’ in butter sage and shaves of Reggiano with winter black truffles on tasting menu.

What is your favorite kitchen tool?

My small tweezers for precision plating work.

Photos by Michael Palmer.
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Exclamation Chef : Chris Pickren : Omni Resort (Amelia Island, FL)

This week’s !Chef is Chris Pickren of Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort!


Are there any family influences on your style and taste?

I grew up in Southeast Georgia so family meals were always a big deal, holidays in the fall season were always a highlight. If I had my way we would have Thanksgiving dinner once a month but that probably would have been a terrible burden on my Mother. She was a big influence because she always had home cooked meals for us when my brother and I would get home from school. To this day I still call her up to make home style chicken soup when I am under the weather, she is always happy to oblige! I mix southern comfort cooking with French technique very naturally when I cook in the restaurant. .

When did you realize you really were a chef?

I originally thought I wanted to be an accountant out of high school but really didn’t like the classes. The whole time I was in school I was working in restaurants to make money and that’s when I started to realize that I had something to offer the hospitality industry. From that point I went to school in Orlando and things just started to escalate from there. I remember my first big tasting for a new job in Charleston, SC at a 5 star resort, I did six courses in 3 hours of a mystery basket and received a job offer the next day. That was probably the moment when I felt that my career as a chef was legitimate.

What are some things you do that keep you growing professionally?

I have a great community of chefs that work around me and make want “sharpen the saw” constantly. My brother being a highly talented chef as well makes things fun as well. I also get really into food blogs and try to stay as up to date as possible with the ever changing trends of the culinary world.

Your favorite drink/cocktail?

Got to be a Maker’s Mark Manhattan

What is your favorite night at your restaurant? Why?

I enjoy the heavy cover nights, but my favorites have been the wine dinners we have done with Silver Oak and Rombauer. So much thought is put into the menu planning process and its very exciting when it all finally gets to the plate.

Who would you love to have prepare a meal for you?

Rick Bayless, there are a lot of chefs that I look up to and would love to experience their food, but I enjoy eating Mexican food on my days off and Bayless just so happens to be the American authority on that style of cuisine.

What is something about you that people would find surprising?

I used to be somewhat of a picky eater when I was in high school. Well done steak, minimal vegetable intake, and unique ingredients like foie or uni. I was very much a chicken finger guy. That all changed as I got older and more experienced in restaurants, now nothing is off the menu.

What would your last meal on earth be, where would you have it, and with whom?

Thanksgiving dinner with my family at our old house in Yulee, FL. My Moms cornbread dressing is the real deal.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to a person who cooks as a hobby?

Let your meat rest, my Dad is notorious for breaking this rule…

What has been your funniest kitchen incident?

I knew a guy once that threw a malfunctioning printer into the fryer, epic!

What is your favorite ingredient?

Lately it has been vinegar, its great to season a wide variety of food.

What is your favorite item on your menul?

I really love my version of shrimp -n- grits, everywhere in the Southeast has there own. The combination of the grits and boiled peanut dressing are really delicious.

What is your favorite kitchen tool?

Really like my Shun Santouko knife, kind of a boring answer….

 

Some of the featured menu items shown above:

Cold water lobster appetizer with jicama, apples, warm Brie

 

Butter roasted scallop with garden of peas and carrots, vanilla soil.

 

Southern style caprese with roma tomato, farmers cheese, malt vinegar crackling

 

Charred Top sirloin with sweet and sour peperonata, grilled eggplant, paprika oil

Photos by Michael Palmer.

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Exclamation Chef : Erik Yang : Toki Underground

This week’s !chef is Erik Yan of Toki Underground!

Are there any family influences on your style and taste?

When Toki Underground first opened the menu was heavily based on the experiences of eating and cooking with my family, especially my grandfather and my mother. Now that the restaurant has been open for a year those recipes have definitely evolved and more unique to my style now.

When did you realize you really were a chef?

When Toki Underground finally opened I realized I wasn’t what people consider the classical term of the chef. Over the last year I have worked really hard and tried to surround myself with people that are more talented with insane work ethic to help me to reach a point where I can feel comfortable calling myself a chef. I still have a lot of work to do and the learning never stops.

What are some things you do that keep you growing professionally?

Constantly studying and trying to be a better person and leader.

Your favorite drink/cocktail?

Shot of irish whiskey and a cold Budweiser.

What is your favorite night at your restaurant? Why?

I love the days that I do an open to close at the restaurant. I love coming in and opening the gates and then the cleaning at the end of the night. It has this great full circle feel. I also enjoy the shifts where I occasionally wash dishes for the whole evening.

Who would you love to have prepare a meal for you?

Morimoto. I have admired him since I was a kid.

What is something about you that people would find surprising?

I don’t have a driver’s license and I love going to chain restaurants but I hate the new calorie counters.

What would your last meal on earth be, where would you have it, and with whom?

Steamed sweet potato and pork short ribs canton style with a bowl of dan dan mien at this amazing noodle shop around the corner from my grandparents house in Taipei. I would love to have this meal with my grandfather who is already deceased.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to a person who cooks as a hobby?

Get the Heston Blumethanl book about cooking at home. It is awesome. Don’t buy your knives from Williams and Sonoma or Sur la Tab. You can always wash the dishes at Toki for free.

What has been your funniest kitchen incident?

We always have a great time working and the inside jokes are always endless. It is like a fraternity except we cut and label everything.

What is your favorite ingredient?

Garlic

What is your favorite item on your menul?

This often varies but this week I have been eating a lot of the Taiwanese Cold Tofu and the ramps we just pickled with just a bowl of rice and some soy sauce.

What is your favorite kitchen tool?

Masking Tape and kitchen scissors.

Photos by Michael Palmer.

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Exclamation Chef : Johnny Spero : SUNA

This week’s !chef is Johnny Spero of SUNA!

Are there any family influences on your style and taste?

My grandmother was from Latvia. Growing up, I fondly remember her preparing our family’s meals. I would stand in the kitchen and just watch her create amazing dishes from the simplest ingredients. Knodel, a potato or bread dumpling from eastern europe, is still one of my favorites! It’s because of her that my curiosity for food began.

When did you realize you really were a chef?

Wait, I’m a chef?

What are some things you do that keep you growing professionally?

Read. Read. Read. In addition to that, I’ve been trying to travel a lot in the last year to experience other cultures and new food. I also find it valuable to frequently interact with other cooks to discuss favorite meals, favorite restaurant experiences, and of course, where to get a good taco.

Your favorite drink/cocktail?

Hitachino Nest Ale

What is your favorite night at your restaurant? Why?

Let’s revisit this question after we open!

**SUNA is scheduled to open at the end of 2012 in a still to be announced location with a two tasting menus…one small and one large.**

Who would you love to have prepare a meal for you?

Michel Bras. The first time I saw “Essential Cuisine” I couldn’t put it down. People are still examining his work and trying to create at that level.

What would your last meal on earth be, where would you have it, and with whom?

The back deck at my parents’ house, with my family and friends, eating Maryland blue crabs and drinking Natty Boh. Classy, I know.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to a person who cooks as a hobby?

Keep it as a hobby.

What is your favorite item on your menu?

The one I am most proud of and had the most fun creating and tweaking is the short rib with banana and nasturtium.

What is your favorite kitchen tool?

Definitely my PacoJet.

Photos by Michael Palmer.

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Exclamation Chef : Janis Mclean : Bistrot Le Zinc

This week’s !Chef is Janis Mclean of Bistrot Le Zinc!

!Chef Janis Mclean

Executive chef Janis McLean quit her corporate job in 1993, ran away to cooking school, and never looked back. Trained in classical French cuisine and techniques, McLean joins Le Zinc after four years as executive chef at 15ria, as well as stints at other well-known area restaurants including The Morrison Clark Inn, redDog Café, and Red Sage. McLean has a commitment to soul satisfying food that is well prepared, flavorful, and beautiful to look at. While her background is in the classic French style, she enjoys tweaking tradition by adding American, Asian, and Indian accents. Taking over from former executive chef David Ashwell (who moved to Ireland with his growing family), McLean looks forward to continuing Le Zinc’s philosophy of serving delicious French classics in a relaxed and intimate setting.

McLean received her training at Bethesda’s L’Academie de Cuisine. While working at at Washington’s top restaurants, she had a twelve-year association with La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine in Burgundy, France. McLean served as course director in Burgundy for two summers, worked closely stateside with founder Anne Willan, and eventually became director of U.S. operations. McLean currently lives in Silver Spring with her husband Bruce, and is active in Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, Les Dames d’Escoffier, and the American Institute of Wine and Food.

Are there any family influences on your style and taste?

Ahhh, I still love to cook pastries. I would never be a pastry chef, as I can not pipe to save my soul (awful, I mean awful !!). But I do love to bake. Folks line up for my banana cream pie. When I was a kid, that’s actually what I started with. We did not really ever have desserts, except on birthdays, and special events. The first two things I ever made were cream puffs and then a lemon meringue pie and then moved on to family dinners (tho there are few doozies in there too !!).

When did you realize you really were a chef?

I realized the first day that I walked into cooking school that I was in the right place and never looked back. I went to L’Academie de Cuisine, as a career changer. When I got out of high school it was not a question of are you going to college, it was what college are you going too. So I never questioned it. I always cooked, even as a little kid, and continued to do so as a college student for my roommates, etc When I landed at L’Academie I was in my element !!! Of course, out in the restaurant world, I continued to learn, hone my craft before I could actually call my self a chef, but there was never any doubt.

What are some things you do that keep you growing professionally?

I heard a food writer give a talk early in my career and admonish us all that we need to travel, need to eat out, need to keep experiencing food. And it was sound advise which I try to adhere too. I also read a lot. Also I am a member of WCR (Women Chefs and Restauranteurs) and try to go to the annual conference each year — it is loaded with workshops, info, networking, an intensive three days —- I leave on such a high it carries me through the year until the next one.

Your favorite drink/cocktail?

Water …gallons and gallons of it. And I live on ice tea all day long. Cocktail — beer — the hoppier the better. If I am dining out, champagne is my go to aperitif. And in the summer, Pimms Cup is my fave.

What is your favorite night at your restaurant? Why?

Full house, tickets coming in at good pace, fun special (i.e. softshells, happy, happy softshells), nice buzz coming in off of the dining room and someone comes by the line to say what a good dinner they have just had. That’s why we are here, to take care of people.

Who would you love to have prepare a meal for you?

My first chef, Susan McCreight Lindeborg, it would be lovely to have her food again. She was the best of the best, and I was lucky to spend 5 1/2 year learning from her.

What is something about you that people would find surprising?

Oh, I doubt anything …..I am pretty normal….a bit goofy …..but pretty normal !!

What would your last meal on earth be, where would you have it, and with whom?

It would be with my husband, we would be on the water, and have perfectly cooked, fresh, beautiful shrimp, and fish, and bounty from the sea. And a salad, tender and fresh from the garden, and cheese, need a cheese course, a proper trolley would be nice. And then dessert …hmmmm…will have to think about that, but have to have just desserts too !

What is the best piece of advice you would give to a person who cooks as a hobby?

Be sure you get your pan hot before the food goes into it. It’s actually a three step process, first heat the pan, then put in the fat (oil, or butter, or lard, etc) …then count to five …and then add your food. And then LEAVE IT alone …do not touch it, flip it or poke it, let it sear, let the caramelization happen.

Also, have enough BTU’s

And lastly, have FUN !!!

What has been your funniest kitchen incident?

Usually involves a double, and turnaround and then ………………….

What is your favorite ingredient?

Bacon, it’s natures perfect food !!! And fresh, fresh garden produce from the organic co-op ….love, love, love the baby chard, and cutest little baby turnips, and pea shoot ..the pea shoots, there is a 12-step program for me but I don’t want to know about it.

What is your favorite kitchen tool?

Tongs, saucing spoon, and sharp chef’s knife, can’t live without ‘em

Bistrot Le Zinc

Bistrot Le Zinc serves traditional bistrot fare in a space renowned for its exceptional design and attention to details. Opened in July, 2011, Le Zinc has already earned a place in The Washingtonian’s 100 Very Best Restaurants. The French menu, prepared by chef Janis McLean, offers everything from brightly colored pots of steaming mussels and cones of golden frites to a hefty lamb shank, onion soup, sweetbreads with grainy mustard sauce, and rockfish with bouillabaisse velouté. Owner John Warner welcomes all guests to this bustling but intimate Left Bank outpost.

Hours & Location:

Lunch
Tuesday – Friday: 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Dinner
Tuesday – Thursday: 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Friday & Saturday: 5 p.m. – 11 p.m.
Sunday: 5 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Located in Cleveland Park on Macomb Street
between Wisconsin Avenue and 38th Street.

Phone: (202) 686-2015

Photos by: Michael Palmer

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