DC’s Rising Culinary Star Series: Part II, Chef Dan Giusti, 1789

1789's Executive Chef, Dan Giusti

1789's Executive Chef, Dan Giusti

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. Chef Tony Chittum was part one of this series.

Lisa Shapiro Question: Who has been the greatest influence on you and your cooking?

Chef Dan Giusti Answer: I would say initially it was a family driven thing. I have a large Italian family. I was always impressed with one of my Aunts. At a very young age, I liked to cook. She was a phenomenal cook. I always tried to re-create something of hers, but could never do it, but this was when I was 13. She would tell me how to do something, but it never worked out. Everything to this day that she makes is wonderful.

So that was initial interest; I really enjoyed cooking and eating. I’m still impressed to this day even now after I have a much more scrutinizing palate. So initially it was her. Professionally I’d say that it was at my first job that really opened my eyes to what this was all about I worked at Aureole, which was Charlie Palmers’ restaurant in NYC, where I had my internship in culinary school. It was there that I realized that I wanted to be in fine dining and I really enjoyed working a lot. I liked the fast paced atmosphere. That’s a big part of it to. It’s not just about cooking. A lot of people like cooking. This isn’t for those people.You have to be into the atmosphere like hustling, the atmosphere, running around, and being aggressive.

Q: At what point in your life did you know that you wanted to be a Chef?

A: At 17, I knew that I wanted to be in the kitchen. I knew I wanted to be a Chef. I was working in NYC, all alone. All I did was work. Every night, I went home and I would think about what I would do the next day. I was so into thinking about the next day. That was the turning point and that was a long time ago. 

 Q: At 24, you’re already a successful Chef. If you could give some advice to young chefs just starting out, what would it be?

A: My advice would be, before you go to culinary school or before you make any kind of big commitment, you should just get into a professional kitchen and work. See if the atmosphere is you; see if the hours are for you.

That’s the initial thing and then from there my advice is to anyone who is at that point who realizes that they do want

Exterior of restaurant

Exterior of restaurant

to be a Chef, don’t rush into being a chef. You should take advantage of the fact that you work in a kitchen as a cook and that there is someone who is there who is trying to teach you. My advice is work somewhere where you’re always learning and being challenged to be better.  

Q: What is your best or “signature” dish?

A: I’m proud to say that there isn’t anything on the menu right now that has been on there long enough for me to say that. I’m a big proponent of not having those types of things. I know that there was a time, at the height of this restaurant, when the menu was the same for four or five years and that is when some of those dishes came about. ‘Oh, this is the signature dish of 1789.’ I have only been here one year. We talk about it about how we had some really nice dishes last season, should we bring them back? I question whether we should bring them back; why not just do different dishes. There is no dish that I would say that this is my signature dish because when I look back on a dish I say, ‘Oh I should have done this instead.’ I say, ‘We should have changed this or that.’ It’s such a learning process.

So now there are dishes on the menu that show that we’re definitely getting somewhere. We don’t have items (on the menu) that people are coming in specifically for. For example, Steak Tartare was on the menu for a long time and it was really good but I was changing everything on the menu. So we took it off the menu and people were upset that we took it off. We replaced it with a beef Carpaccio and now everyone loves that and now no one even cares know about the Tartare. And that’s the goal, we replace them with better things. It’s a different time. The lamb here is an excellent quality piece of lamb and is probably the best in the city. And it’s great and I have no problem with keeping it on. It’s the only thing that we won’t change. It’s the best lamb I have ever had. 

 I think our fish dishes are good. I enjoy eating fish better than meat. I like eating lighter too. I put a little bit more passion, or thought into it. In terms of a specific dish, for example, we have a Grouper dish that I really like a lot. It’s very seasonal; very American and a play on traditional food. Which I think, all in all is what we’re trying to do here; American food, seasonal and relatively simple to a point, which is what we’re trying to do here. The dish is a small piece of South Carolina Red Grouper, seared, roasted and served with a beer boil, white ale, Yukon gold potatoes, shellfish stock, roasted fennel, ramps, and crispy fried soft-shell crab, tossed in smoked paprika. People really like it. That dish I think – is my favorite dish. It’s a really great example of the food that we’re trying to do here and the food that I’d like to do here. If I can be content with every dish as I am with that dish, I’d be happy.

We give people good options and we have the prix fixe menu also. I like to keep things consistent. When I get a complaint, it throws me off. Most people who come in here will enjoy it but then you have that 5% that are difficult and are really paying attention to the food and then you have that 1% who will never be happy, no matter what. We want to please those people. They came here because they had high expectations and we want to meet those expectations. Especially now with the economy, you have to fight for your customers. The economy is bad and DC is becoming a much better restaurant scene. Everyone who comes in here, we need to impress.

Inside 1789's Dining Room; Gorgeous Fireplace

Inside 1789's Dining Room; Gorgeous Fireplace

I would like to see a younger group of people who are really into the food here. We need a future. The fact that we require a jacket we hope that it doesn’t keep people from coming here. Our restaurant is very Washington. It’s great food and great service. 

 Q: What is your favorite or most frequently used ingredient?

A: We use a lot of vinegar. A lot of pickled things in a lot of dishes. Pickled pearl onions have shown up on like 20 dishes since I have been here. Also pickled ramps. A lot of acid. Like that Grouper dish has a good amount of lemon. I really enjoy vinegar.

Q: In the DC metro area, what are your current favorite restaurants?

A: Obelisk is a great restaurant. I went there for the first time when I was 15. I’ve eaten there at least six or seven times and a month ago. I think that’s a great restaurant. Are you going to be blown away with the food? Sometimes, maybe but usually not blown away but when you go there you know that you’re going to get good food. The food is always good no matter what. It’s great food. And some of the stuff that they do there is better than anywhere else. I don’t care how much money you pay. We had ravioli with braised escarole it was the best I’ve ever had. It was so good. That’s something that you never see anywhere else. It was just phenomenal. It was a great meal. Obelisk seats like 30 people, which is very quiet. It’s very quiet, service is great, everyone knows about wine. It’s not pretentious at all. They use a lot of seasonal high quality products.

Q: What are your guilty pleasures?

A: I eat a lot of junk food. I have the worse diet; the most unhealthy. They’re not even guilty pleasures; I’m pretty open about eating like McDonald’s, Hot dogs. I get like 8-9 McDonald’s cheeseburgers and ice cream. I like to make my own ice cream but I don’t get to do that very often. I’ll get a pint of Häagen-Dazs. I’m really big into candy. I like nerds and I like gummy candy too, sour patch are like my favorite. You can’t go wrong with sour patch kids.

Q: You were nominated for the 2009 RAMW Rising Culinary Star Award. If not you, who will win?

A: As far as that goes, if you look at the people that are nominated and you look at their accomplishments and what they’ve done. If you look at the title, “Rising Culinary Star” – I look at the guy from Central; Central got the Best New Restaurant from James Beard last year. As far as accomplishment goes, he shouldn’t be a Rising Culinary Star. As far as I’m concerned, he’s really on his way. He’s there. He’s doing a great job. So I don’t think he should win. I don’t think he should be nominated for that award. It’s almost an insult to him to be in that category. He’s 33 years old and working at Central. It’s an insult. Like what is his next step? He’s going to continue to work for Michel Richard and open less formal places because that’s what makes money and that’s the direction that he’s probably going in. I’ve never eaten at Central or Majestic. I’ve eaten at Zaytinya. I’ve eaten at Vermilion. Restaurant Eve is like the best restaurant in town and she (Shannon Overmiller) came from there. The fact that we’re recognized is great. I say “we” because Travis was recognized as Best Pastry Chef.

Q: You have both a solid culinary education, from CIA, and you have a lot of work experience, since you have been working in the industry since you were 15 years old. Which do you feel has been the most instrumental to your success?

A: Definitely not school that’s for sure; not to knock school. I would say once it again it’s either Aureole or my last job (Guy Savoy). Going to CIA was helpful but it wasn’t the most important. It definitely allowed me to meet people I met the people at Clyde’s. When I was 15, the woman who was the representative, she directed me to Clyde’s. If it wasn’t for CIA, I wouldn’t have gotten to Clyde’s, if it wasn’t for CIA, I wouldn’t have gone to Italy, If it wasn’t for CIA, I wouldn’t have gone to Aureole either. So in that sense, it might have been one of the most important things. I made a lot of connections at CIA. In terms of what I learned it would either be from Aureole or Guy Savoy. It was so eye opening there, just the way things were so refined; that this level of refinement exists in the kitchen. For example, I peeled walnuts with pairing knives and shucking peas out of the pod. In terms of technique and discipline you have to go to a kitchen like that.

Q: You’ve been with Clyde’s Restaurant Group for so long, if you could be the Chef at any DC restaurant, which would you choose? Why?

A: It would definitely be, as far as the space, and the restrictions, and how they run the place – a place like Komi. I respect that guy. I’ve eaten there and I didn’t think it was the greatest thing ever. He cut down the space of his restaurant so he could make better food and I really respect that. I really respect that about him; I’ve never met him but I really respect that – the fact he cut his restaurant down in size to make better food. A small restaurant where you can do anything you want. You don’t have to worry about pleasing these people and those people. You do what you want and people will come. The fact that he started at such a young age and was able to do it and just get it done. He’s a prime example of being a chef at a really young age and just developing yourself. He started and you see his menus of when he started they have nothing to do with what he is doing now. Trying to get better and getting better. I would love to do that.  

Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

A: I can see myself being here at least for two more years. I want to be here long enough to get it done. See it through. The next step from here would be for me to open my own place. I think it would be less than five years

Stay tuned for other exclusive interviews with DC’s Rising Culinary Stars. Cedric Maupillier from Central Michel Richard is 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 Rammys awards gala.

For more info: Go to 1789, located at 1226 36th St., NW Washington, DC 20007 – Phone: (202) 965-1789

Hours: Open Mon-Thu 6pm-10pm; Fri 6pm-11pm; Sat 5:30pm-11pm; Sun 5:30pm-10pm;

For Reservations:

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2 Responses

  1. […] Rising Culinary Star Series: Part II, Chef Dan Giusti, 1789 Syndicated from DC’s Rising Culinary Star Series: Part II, Chef Dan Giusti, 1789.In 2009, the five finalists for the “Rising Culinary Star” award are Cedric Maupillier from […]

  2. […] – Offers a monthly prix fixe menu for $40 but RW could be an opportunity to try out some of Dan Giusti’s Rammy nominated cooking, if you haven’t been able to make it in […]

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