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Tasty Trades: How local chefs support one another through family meals

Scrolling through D.C. chefs’ social media feeds, it’s common to see them enjoying each others’ food without leaving the comfort of their own kitchens. They’re not ordering takeout, they’re doing friendly trades. The food is usually used for family meals, the time when restaurant’s feed their staff, usually right before or after a shift.

Danny Lee and his kitchen crew at Mandu have chowed down on pastas, pastries and charcuterie from Osteria Morini, whose team received an epic spread of Korean barbecue, japchae, kimchi fried rice, dumplings, seafood pancakes, and more in return. Buttercream Bakeshop’s Tiffany MacIsaac often carries sweets across the street to Marjorie Meek-Bradley at Smoked & Stacked, who repays the favor by sending back pastrami sandwiches. And there has been Thai food on several nights for Bibiana’s executive sous chef Ryan Hackney and his colleagues courtesy of Alfie’s chef Alex McCoy, who got hotel pans full of pasta and pizzas as a thank you. “It’s showing the love, while showing off what we do,” says Hackney.

Lee’s first trade happened a few years ago, when he asked chef Scott Drewno at the Source to provide him with some steamed buns. As a thank you, Lee brought over several bags of food. “If you’re going to a restaurant when you run out something or if you’re picking something up, you bring food as a thank you,” he explains.

Since then, the Mandu chef has done other swaps with Graffiato, Sixth Engine, and Thip Khao “It’s not planned out,” says Lee. “It’s whenever there’s an opportunity.”

One day last summer, Hackney got a hankering for some hamburgers, so he called up DBGB’s then-chef Ed Scarpone for a bag full of the brasserie’s burgers. When MacIsaac was in the throes of opening her boutique bakery in Shaw, chef friends would come by with meals for her and her staff. Drewno stopped in with the entire dumpling menu from the Source’s dim sum brunch, while the staff at Doi Moi showed up with sandwiches. “We don’t have a lot to eat that’s not dessert, so we really appreciated it,” says MacIsaac. “We always send back a giant box of goodies.”

This phenomenon of tit-for-tat trades is relatively new. “It used to be that you wouldn’t let someone else’s food into your kitchen,” says Lee. “You’d take offense at it.”

Now it’s seen as badge of friendship when another chef sends over a meal. Though D.C.’s restaurant scene has expanded and evolved immensely in recent years, the growth has brought many hospitality industry staffers closer together. “These trades show how everyone in this city feels like a big family,” says Meek-Bradley, who hopes to do future gastro give and takes with the teams at Minibar and Pineapple & Pearls. “We might be in competition, but we’re all in the same business together.”

Her neighbor across the way agrees. “There’s a level a camaraderie here that doesn’t exist everywhere,” says MacIsaac. “It’s such a D.C. thing and it’s so special.”

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