As James Beard Award recipient and former White House Chef Frank Ruta prepares to open his newest restaurant Mirabelle just blocks from the White House, he took some time out of his busy schedule to chat with me about his time at the White House, his sidekick award-winning pastry chef Aggie Chin, and what influenced the menu at Mirabelle.
If you haven't heard about the much anticipated restaurant, Mirabelle will offer French cuisine influenced by modern American hospitality and will pay homage to the city's era of fine European dining.
What does the name Mirabelle mean?
Mirabelle is the name of a yellow, golden plum that has its origins in Turkey but it also means wondrous beauty.
How will your time at the White House influence Mirabelle?
For me, the influence will be the three or four guys that worked in the White House kitchen with me. They were in their late 60's so they had been taught in a classical way throughout Europe, so they were walking encyclopedias, literally. It's a bygone era -- we don't see those types of chefs anymore. We still rely on a lot of those techniques -- sometimes I call it antiquated cookery because some of that is, like I said, from a bygone era.
You traveled a lot to prepare for the opening of Mirabelle. What meals do you think influenced Mirabelle the most?
We ate at mostly one and two Michelin star restaurants in Paris. I think the whole point of the trip was to go and visit restaurants specifically for the concept we were doing here. I think they all had some influence along the way, because we picked up bits and pieces. The biggest thing that slapped you in the face as soon as you walked in the door at the restaurants in Paris was how professional, how sound and how extremely competent the entire floor staff was.
What are some of the key menu items?
For lunch, I think the French Onion Soup Burger. I think some of the entree salads are really interesting as well. It is hard for me to pick out key dishes because it's one of those things that all of a sudden a dish gets popularity and takes off.
Tell us about your French Onion Soup Burger? And why do you think people have come to love your burgers?
The burgers that were successful at Palena were successful because they were simple. We took a lot of pride in our burgers -- we loved cooking them and everything on the burger we made in house, except for the cheese. I think the combination of the bun, the meat and the mayonnaise really made the burgers. But at Mirabelle we won't have that. I made burgers at home for my family over the winter and not because we were trying anything, but just because I wanted a good burger. So I made the buns and I cooked some onions like you would do for an onion soup and on put it on the burger and I thought it was delicious.
What is your favorite item on the menu?
It changes. As we work on things day to day it changes. I really like the steak sandwich, it's an open face American Wagyu flank steak that we marinate and grill and then we serve it open face on whole wheat buckwheat pullman bread that we make in house. We griddle both sides of the bread so it's kind of crispy but light inside and then we spread charred and roasted cippolini onion on it and then we melt cheese and serve with a pepper sauce. It's kind of like a take on a French Dip.
Why have you decided to open with just lunch service?
If we opened for dinner first, lunch would become like an afterthought. For us the big thing was to give lunch the proper focus. We wanted to make sure we got it up and going in a system that was good for us and then we can slide into dinner and start focusing on dinner.
Through all of the change, pastry chef Aggie Chin has been by your side. What do you think she will add to Mirabelle?
I think what she adds is the finishing touch. I think a lot of times when you leave a restaurant, it's always the last things that stick with you the most. She has a great taste, great palette and her insights are always useful and helpful.