Being able to say you’ve cooked at the famous James Beard House in New York City is something every chef dreams of checking off their bucket list. And every year, a handful of chefs who were recognized at the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington’s annual RAMMY awards head up for a night to do just that. I went along, tasted the food, took selfies in the mirrored bathroom of Beard’s gloriously weird former home and got to check “eat dinner at the James Beard House” off of my own bucket list. I also caught up with the featured chefs to chat about the dinner, the RAMMYs and what’s next:
Chef Austin Fausett, Proof
- Upscale Casual Restaurant of the Year winner
- Chef of the Year nominee
- Age: 31
What was it like cooking at the James Beard House? It’s a great time, and I love the environment where you’re sharing the kitchen with a group of chefs like that. The camaraderie and collaboration are great.
Describe your dish: We made Chilean sea bass with burnt eggplant puree, yellow pepper coulis, chanterelle mushrooms, confit fennel and Belgian endive. It's kind of creative modern American, just trying to maybe express where Proof is heading.
How did it feel when Proof won the RAMMY award? It was really exciting. I don’t think I expected to win. We were up against some really excellent restaurants that I admire. For us to win, it was a thrill and something to kind of push you to deliver on that.
What’s next for you? We’re working on a fall patio promotion to use harvest ingredients going along with a harvest wine promotion. Harvest in wine country is the idea.
- Casual Restaurant of the Year nominee
- Chef of the Year nominee
- Restaurateur of the Year nominee
- Age: 46
What was it like cooking at the James Beard House? This was my fourth time cooking at the Beard House, and every time is good times! I've worked at Ridgewells Catering as well as starting up José Andrés' catering, so I approached it like a fancy catering event. A lot of planning and writing a sensible menu.
Describe the dish you made: Our dish is called Rocky Balboa — a dish that's currently on the menu at Daikaya Izakaya. [It's] composed of a variety of eggs: an onsen egg, salted salmon roe washed with sake and marinated in white soy, tobiko and sea urchin all in a chilled soy-citrus dashi garnished with petit Japanese herbs and freshly grated wasabi and a side of nukazuke.
What’s your greatest professional achievement so far? Gosh. Depends on different times of my life. Completing a season at El Bulli. Opening the Minibar with José. Basically being part of what José Andrés called the "Delta Force" in the opening of The Bazaar, Tres [and] Saam. Winning "Iron [Chef America]" twice. Leaving the nest and opening three restaurants with my business partners.
What’s next for you? Keeping busy. Challenging myself. Continuously improving. Letting that philosophy guide me.
Chef Ryan Ratino, Bresca
- Rising Culinary Star of the Year winner
- Age: 27
What was it like cooking at the James Beard House? It was amazing, actually. It’s always something you think about when your mentors are going to cook there and you’re stuck back in the kitchen. And then you walk into that tiny kitchen everyone always talks about and hit your head on the hood that everyone always tell you you’re going to. [Plus] cooking with other D.C. chefs, the camaraderie among good talent was really nice.
Describe your dish: I call it a parfait of foie gras [with] preserved Italian and Australian truffles, cherries preserved in cherry juice and red wine vinegar and brioche lacquered in popcorn butter. I always said if I made it to the Beard House, I would be cooking foie gras.
How did it feel when you won the RAMMY award? I mean, I was beyond surprised, honestly. I sort of sat there for a second. The team I was with was like, “That’s you!” To win, it was amazing — by far, my best achievement.
What are you excited about with tomorrow’s opening of Bresca? I’m excited to really have the opportunity to put forth our full energy and imagination into the space and cuisine, to see how it evolves over time, how people receive it. Hopefully, there will be more trips to the James Beard House with the entire team.
Chef Rob Rubba, Hazel
- New Restaurant of the Year winner
- Rising Culinary Star of the Year nominee
- Age: 35
What was it like cooking at the James Beard House? A little bit surreal, because it’s like 15 years of a career and wanting to cook there and never having the chance before. Really exciting and cool. And it was fun because you’re surrounded by so many of your peers, it’s just a great group, joking around and helping. The food is serious, but there’s no tension in the kitchen, so that always makes life a bit better.
Describe your dish: We did a smoked Virginia beef short rib over fermented turnip puree, shaved raw turnips, sauce of umeboshi and some perilla leaves and black lime.
How did it feel when you won the RAMMY award? Given the competition we were up against, it took me some time to get up on stage because I didn’t believe it. It felt great for our entire team — front of house, back of house, everybody. After working so hard every day for a year, seeing that the hard work was recognized for myself and everyone was really awesome.
Are you thinking of opening a second restaurant? Yeah, definitely, I would do another restaurant. There’s always room for inspiration and room for creativity, and not everything fits in the box of Hazel.
Pastry Chef Jemil Gadea, Masseria
- Pastry Chef of the Year winner
- Age: 41
What was it like cooking at the James Beard House? It was really interesting. I’ve never been there before. The staff was really helpful, and I’ve met all the chefs before but I’ve never cooked with them. It was great, really exciting. The James Beard House has this mystique about it. It’s THE James Beard House.
Describe your dish: I made a pine nut tart. I tried to focus on pine nuts as my main flavor and then try to reinforce that. [I added] mugolio syrup as a garnish as well as spruce oil, so you’ve got all these flavors of piney, citrusy things going on. Amaro figs ... then we had buffalo milk ricotta gelato.
How did it feel when you won the RAMMY award? I was surprised. I mean, honestly, I was just overflowing with emotions at that point. I had been nominated the year before and didn’t win. Just being nominated that second time, I was so nervous. It was just wow, so overwhelming. It makes it all worth the 14-hour days and not being able to go to special events.
What’s next for you? We’re opening a restaurant at The Wharf, what’s going right now is to kind of head up that and make sure that we’re developing our breads and pastries and gelato, and there are a lot of things going into that market.