Each year the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) honors extraordinary professionals within the Washington, DC area restaurant industry at their Restaurant Awards Gala,“The RAMMYS”. Prominent restaurant employees, Chefs, and local restaurants are celebrated and recognized within thirteen award categories. In 2009, the five finalists for the “Rising Culinary Star” award are Cedric Maupillier from Central Michel Richard, Daniel Giusti from 1789, Mike Isabella from Zaytinya, Shannon Overmiller from Majestic Cafe, and Anthony Chittum from Vermilion. As part of the “Rising Culinary Star Series”, each chef will be featured in an exclusive interview depicting their personal history, culinary experiences, and future aspirations.
Anthony Chittum, Executive Chef at Vermilion Restaurant in Old Town, Alexandria was lucky contestant number one.
Lisa Shapiro Question: What is your best or “signature dish”?
Anthony Chittum Answer:I have one per season. We change the menu each season and when that certain ingredient comes back around the following year, I’ll look at it and if I really like it we’ll put it back on the menu. We’ll tweak it a little bit. There is a dish that we do in the winter, the roasted local rockfish that is a play on Chowder. It’s a puree with glazed celery, leek, and potato with a little smoked bacon and fried oysters as a garnish. The sauce is my “Chowder froth”. It’s definitely something that we do every year. I think it’s where it needs to be.
Q: What is your current favorite ingredient? Something that you use frequently on the current menu?
A: I’ve been playing with making my own mustard using fresh mustard seeds to create different flavors of mustards. I like mustard seeds and the heat from it much better than from pepper. Right now we have a green peppercorn, and a horseradish mustard and a basil mustard. It’s the mustard that is served with the hush puppies. We start with a basic Dijon, add maple syrup, and touch of mayonnaise.
Q: How did you get involved in the farm-to-table movement?
A: I grew up cooking in restaurants around the Annapolis area where everything is very seasonal. Some simple examples are, when Shad Roe is in season, we had it on the menu for a month and crab and corn chowder was always in the summer and we would have potato leek soup at night. When I moved to San Francisco in the late 90′s to work with Donald Link, it was just done out there. It wasn’t trendy, it’s just how it was done out there. Everyone always changed the menu. We had great local produce and we changed the menu constantly. So that was my foundation and then when I came back to DC, I worked for Todd Gray at Equinox. He was very much into seasonal food and changing the menu constantly and sourcing out the best farmers and the best products locally. In 2000, there were some restaurants doing it, but not to the extent that they are now. Now when Chefs start up their own place for the first time, it’s almost automatic and they’re changing their menus at least quarterly. People are more conscious about what they’re putting on the menu. It’s a tough competition. You have to offer the best of everything.
Q: What are your guilty pleasures?
A: I try to eat healthy, but I like pizza; but good pizza. I eat peanut butter by the spoonful. A Spoonful for me and a spoonful for the dog. I like sour patch kids. I’m not really a chocolate person. I like fruit and cheese instead of dessert.
Q: What is your favorite dish on the current menu? (If your family came to the restaurant, what you would you insist that they try?)
A:My family came to the restaurant last week and I cooked for them. My mom doesn’t like spicy food so she had the roasted spring chicken with the faro salad with pine nuts, sugar snap peas, and currents. My Dad had the petite tenderloin & short rib “pastrami” with buttermilk blue cheese & potato galette and a little herb salad with olive oil and lemon. The pastrami is a little hot.
Q: Where do you get inspiration to create new dishes?
A: It’s a combination of a whole lot of different things; knowing the ingredients and their flavor components, and other flavor components that go with that. Everything has been done but you can tweak it to your taste. You have to go out and eat at other people’s restaurants and see what they’re doing. You can get inspiration almost anywhere. I went to Greece last summer and I got a lot of inspiration from there. When I came back from Greece, I played with some of the things that I loved when I was there. One of the dishes that we’re offering at the farm dinner coming up, such as the mixed grill with a combination of rabbit, beef, bison, from New Frontier Farms in Virginia, all different cuts. It’s a dish that I had at little restaurant on the water in Mykonos. We also did a beefsteak grilled flat bread, stuffed with feta, and a little bacon. I also loved the Loukaniko, or Greek sausage that I had in Greece. When I came back, I tried to recreate it. We put it on the menu for a little while.
Q: What are your current favorite restaurants?
A: I like Duangrat’s. I get the chef’s special pork and their black pepper calamari, it’s really good. I like going to Bastille in Old Town, it’s about a block from my house. They’re great friends and they always have something good on the menu and they have delicious desserts.
Q:You were nominated for the 2009 RAMW Rising Culinary Star Award. If not you, who will win?
A:It’s a tough call. Cedric Maupillier works with Michel Richard, who is one of the best chefs in the country. It’s a great restaurant with a great reputation and a good following and it gets a lot of press. People know him. I assume that he will win. But I love Zaytinya. It’s one of my favorite places to eat. The food is one of the closest things I have had since I went to Greece. Their chicken eggdrop soup with lemon is awesome. They have great food there. I’ve also been to Majestic three or four times. It’s another great old town restaurant with great food and nice people.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
A: Like most Chefs, I’d like to own my own restaurant. It would definitely be in the DC area. I grew up in Maryland. This is where I belong. I love it here.
Stay tuned for other exclusive interviews with DC’s Rising Culinary Stars. Cedric Maupillier from Central Michel Richard and Daniel Giusti from 1789, are next. The Rammys will be held on Sunday, June 7, 2009. There will be a follow-up feature about the winner of the Rising Culinary Star award and coverage from the Rammy’s awards Gala.
Filed under: Event Tagged: | Zaytinya, Cedric Maupillier, Central Michel Richard, Daniel Giusti, 1789, Mike Isabella, Shannon Overmiller, Majestic Cafe, Anthony Chittum, Vermilion, Rammy, RAMW, Interview, Chef