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June 20, 2014
3 Things About 2 Bigwigs
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In our perpetual quest to bring you the human side of culinary movers andshakers, we visited Restaurant Eve chef Cathal Armstrong and Founding Farmers' mastermind Dan Simons.
You probably already know that Cathal hails from Dublin, Ireland—especially if you've ever struck up a conversation with him, as a wisp of an accent still remains. But what else is up with Restaurant Eve's award-winning chef?
1. He has more than just a green thumb in the garden. He's practically the Jolly Green Giant. He took us behind Restaurant Eve to snoop on his vivacious garden filled with night jasmine, African blue basil, lemon verbena, cauliflower, dinosaur kale, peaches, plums, and so much more.
2. Nutrition is of utmost importance to Cathal, so when he's not in the kitchen or in this garden, you'll find him on Capitol Hill fighting for or against measures impacting what's on school cafeteria trays. “We're in need of serious improvement; right now it's okay for a recipe to be 35% sugar and pizza is being deemed a vegetable,” he tells us. Additionally, Cathal just served as a judge for the “Cooking up Change,” a culinary competition in which high school students prepare a meal within school lunch guidelines using only what's available. Think you could make something delicious for $1?
3. He's a Tae Kwon Do black belt. Yes, there are photos of him breaking boards with his bare hands. It's all a part of the healthy lifestyle that helped him lose 50 pounds.
Dan Simons is principal at Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group (VSAG). If this doesn't ring any bells, we're willing to bet you've dined at Founding Farmers or Farmers Fishers Bakers. Dan spearheaded the development of these iconic area restaurants, and we caught up with him at the Potomac, MD location.
1. Dan teaches at his alma mater—The George Washington University. He founded the university's Scholarship for Sustainable Hospitality. He's the perfect man for the job, as few have tried to run high-volume restaurants so responsibly including being the first LEED Gold certified upscale, full-service restaurant in the country.
2. He doesn't believe in children's menus or big brand soda, so you won't find them in his restaurants. Pop flavors like grapefruit and vanilla are made in house. Next up? Dan wants to figure out how to make cola.
3. His advice? “Never do business with [insert expletive of choice here]." It's all about relationship building. "When you're raising capital, wait for awesome investors, don't just take what's easy,” he tells us. Perhaps that's why Founding Farmers has 11 farmers on the board in addition to having 190 farmers individually invested in the company.
Former FBI Agent Opens First Restaurant
After service as an officer in the US Army, Kaiser Gill (right) found a career with the FBI in the Counterterrorism Division in New York. He had a few other stops, including at a startup medical services company, before deciding to trade in desk jobs for his dream of opening Noelia Italian Kitchen in the former Finemondo space.
Kaiser's vision for Noelia is a place for couples to come for a modern Italian dinnerfollowed by dancing, as he says the city is devoid of this nightlife option. But to be clear, we're not talking about 20-somethings dropping it like it's hot after bowls of piping hot pasta. “We'll be playing '90s music, jazz, and other things that make people happy,” he tells us. There will also be a projector on the wall playing silent movies or Cirque du Soleil.
His chef selection was a long time in the making. Kaiser was a regular at Extra Virgin before it closed in Shirlington. “One day when I open my own restaurant, I'll make you head chef,” he told Carmen Gianna Piazza, a Northern Italian woman who once owned her own restaurant in Italy and who has made stops at Café Milano and Sette Osteria. Kaiser and Carmen have grown close and plan to take both of their families to Italy together in February. The restaurant opens Monday.
Hallelujahs and Hash Browns
Something special goes down in Shaw every Sunday: Gospel Brunch. Ticket holders file in to The Howard Theatre starting at 11:30am to load up on a brunch buffet of fried chicken, French toast, peach cobbler, biscuits and gravy and more dishes designed to “fill the hole in your soul.” We visited on Father's Day along with 150 other people, including many young families.
Come 1:00pm, the Harlem Gospel Choir takes the stage with booming voices and uplifting songs that spur the audience to clap and join in. This is no ordinary gospel choir. They've performed for Presidents Obama and Carter, two popes, and Nelson Mandela, and have sung alongside stars like Diana Ross and Bono. Tickets to Gospel Brunch are $35 in advance and $45 the day of the show.
Mas Sushi at Masa 14
Back before 14th Street was a dining mecca, Richard Sandoval dared to open Masa 14 in 2009. They've been cranking out cocktails and Latin-Asian small plates ever since. Recently, there have been big changes including new Chef de Cuisine Felipe Milanes, whom we snapped serving some of his new dishes. They range from spicy tuna nachos to “Foie Jitas,” which are like the ones you used to get at Chili's but with foie gras and guava crema. Masa 14 also launched a sushi menu including the “Rainbow Tropico Roll” with tuna, hamachi, salmon, avocado and mango-papaya salsa. Wondering why the rice is so perfect? Don't forget that Kaz Okochi has a hand in the recipes.
Gluten Free Pasta That Could Fool Giada
A number of people have chosen to stop consuming gluten for one reason or another. Restaurants, like Urbana in Dupont Circle, are wisely catching on. Executive chef Ethan McKee's (pictured) menu is almost entirely gluten free, including gluten-free versions of pasta and pizza. Ethan plays with chickpea and rice flour along with thickeners like potato starch to produce gluten-free Italian classics that are well disguised.
Pasta dishes, like this bucatini, have a fighting chance in a blind taste test. Those dying to try these gluten-free creations have to wait a bit, however. Urbana will be closing for a five-week, $600,000 refresh focusing on its bar area starting July 1. In the meantime, head to their sister Kimpton restaurant, Firefly. There, executive chef Todd Wiss offers gluten-free brunch, lunch, dinner and dessert menus.
Last Night in LA
Your publisher tried Michael Voltaggio's Ink on Melrose in West Hollywood. Here we snapped the hamachi, served with whipped olive, grapefruit-soy, coriander, and pine nuts.
Here's the fried chicken oatmeal, with sunny side up egg, peas, and lemon.
And here's the lollipop kale, with crème fraîche, pig ears, and togarashi. We passed on this one.
What Are Your Kids Doing This Weekend?
Attention parents of high school students! Bisnow is hosting kids ages 13 to 19 tomorrow at the much-buzzed-about Vox Media HQ in DC for a four-hour program to learn about being an entrepreneur. Vox's president Marty Moe plus two other cool young founders of white-hot start ups will talk with the kids and do exercises that give them info, insights, and fun at the same time. Your high school kids may already know Vox: it owns SB Nation (for sports nuts), The Verge (for tech nuts), and Vox.com (for news and politics nuts). For more info and sign up for Bisnow's GEN Z @ Vox here.