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Cathal Armstrong
Restaurant Eve
110 South Pitt Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
(703) 706-0450

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Interview:
Will Blunt: When did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Cathal Armstrong: It was an accidental job. I was washing dishes as a college job, one of the chefs got sick and they asked me to cover for him. He never came back and I stayed on.

WB: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs today? Do you only hire chefs with culinary school backgrounds?
CA: Culinary School is a great platform from which to start your career. You will get out of it what you put into it. When it comes to hiring, the most important thing for me is restaurant experience and attitude. I only hire people that I feel I might enjoy working with.

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Cathal Armstrong
Restaurant Eve | Washington DC


Biography
Irish chef Cathal Armstrong’s cuisine and philosophy reflect ideas planted in the atypical Dublin household of his childhood, where garlic was used fearlessly and fruits and vegetables were grown in the garden. The family’s travel business launched Armstrong into a myriad of different countries, cultures and cuisines where he began to develop an appreciation for gastronomy in the differing landscapes of Europe. As the family traveled, Armstrong was educated in the languages he now speaks fluently: English, French, Spanish, German and Irish. For those not versed in the Dubliner’s native language, the “t” in Cathal is silent.

At the age of seven, Armstrong began his annual student exchange in France with the Boudain family. His food curriculum involved visiting truffle-farms and vineyards, eating peasant-style food and picking fruits and vegetables on the farm. These early culinary experiences inspired Armstrong’s philosophy. He is committed to sourcing locally, valuing animals and respecting the land, so much so that Armstrong cites innovative farmer David Lankford of Davon Crest Farms in Maryland as one of his biggest inspirations. Armstrong is now an active member of The American Farmland Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting the nation’s agricultural resources.

At the age of 20, Armstrong opened a fine dining restaurant in the Dublin suburbs with two partners. After a two-year tenure at The Baytree, Armstrong decided to move to Washington DC where for the next 11 years he moved his way through various top kitchens learning the fundamentals from mentors including Greg Mitchell of New Heights and Jeffrey Buben of Bistro Bis. It was during his time spent at Gabriel under Gregory Hill that Armstrong met his future wife and business partner Meshelle Armstrong. Together, they dreamed of a place where they could balance a commitment to farmers with their vision of fine dining.

The Armstrongs found it in Alexandria, where in April 2004, 13 years after first arriving in DC, they opened Restaurant Eve. The Modern American restaurant with French, Spanish and Irish influences showcases Armstrong’s playful personal style and deep-rooted commitment to purveyors. In the summer of 2006, Armstrong opened Eamonn’s A Dublin Chipper and PX, or The PX, a cocktail-driven speakeasy lounge five blocks from Restaurant Eve. Both venues are named for Armstrong’s children, Eve and Eamonn. Armstrong has since been inducted into the Share Our Strength Leadership Council, a group of culinary notables from around the country who advise this non-profit dedicated to eradicating childhood hunger in the U.S. Armstrong’s self-described “pork fetish” and the Irish roots at the base of his culinary experience are showcased in decadent but playful dishes like “Bacon, Egg, and Cheese.” The dish makes full use of the versatility of pork fat with a cured and braised pork belly, seared to order, a tender crepe with ham and leeks, and a rich golden cheddar foam.

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Interview Cont'd
WB: Who are your mentors? What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from them?
CA: Chef Greggory Hill of David*Gregory, formerly of New Heights, introduced me to the fundamentals and Jeffrey Buben of Bistro Bis and Vidalia taught me how to run a restaurant.

WB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
CA: Getting the food from the vine to the plate as quickly as possible, focusing and concentrating their flavors.

WB: Are there any secret ingredients that you especially like? Why?
CA: I like working with pork fat. It is very versatile, palatable when hot or cold, and it adds moisture and flavor.

WB: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
CA: I love my meat grinder. We do a lot of charcuterie in the restaurant and it ís one of the most fun branches of cooking. Of course I couldn’t live without my chef’s knife.

WB: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
CA: I look at how they present themselves. I want to know that a person is serious about work and dedicated to staying in the kitchen.

WB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
CA: Letters to a Young Chef by Daniel Boulud and The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller. I make all my staff read Chef Boulud’s book. I am grateful to Chef Keller for writing down so many of the rules we use in the kitchen every day.

WB: What cities do you like for culinary travel?
CA: I’ve been to California twice which I liked, and I was in Paris, Rome and Barcelona when I was first married.

WB: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?
CA: Hopefully at the stove at Restaurant Eve. I’d like to open an artisanal butcher shop and bakery as well.

 

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  •    Published: October 2006

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