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Eric Ziebold
CityZen
1330 Maryland Ave SW
Washington DC, 20024
(202) 554-8588

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Interview:
Antoinette Bruno: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Eric Ziebold: I grew up in Iowa and got a job in a restaurant just to make some money. My mother was a decent cook and dinner was always served promptly at six o’clock. She followed the trends like microwaving and cooking without salt; I think her influence probably made me want to cook, but not necessarily professionally.

 

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Eric Ziebold
CityZen | Washington DC


Biography
In Iowa, CityZen chef Eric Ziebold grew up with a mother who followed culinary trends like embracing the microwave and cooking without salt and under the culinary confines of grueling training for his high school wrestling team. His restaurant career began in his early teens, working an after-school job at Café Maude’s with mentor chef Matt Nichols. It was there in the Midwest that Ziebold learned the fundamentals of cooking, in a calm environment, free of the stereotypical kitchen yelling.

After high school Ziebold went to the nearby University of North Iowa to major in finance but spent more time working at the restaurant than he did in class. After two years, Ziebold’s calling was clear. He left for the Culinary Institute of America, externing at Spago as chef de partie where mentor Nichols was now the executive chef. After graduation, Ziebold spent time with the team at Vidalia in DC where he worked as saucier, poissonier, and chef de partie, before heading west.

In 1996, Ziebold joined Thomas Keller at The French Laundry, where he climbed to the chef de cuisine position within three years. Ziebold stayed a total of eight years, during which he assisted Keller with the opening of Per Se in New York. While Napa provided invaluable experience with one of the best chefs in the country, and an insight into American fine dining, Ziebold missed city life. He returned to DC in 2004 to showcase his particular style of Modern American. As executive chef at CityZen, Ziebold’s creations include a Foie Gras Shabu Shabu, in which foie gras is poached tableside for a French influenced, Asian-inspired dish.


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Interview Cont'd
AB: Did you attend culinary school? Why or why not? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs today? Do you only hire chefs with culinary school backgrounds?
EZ: I went to the Culinary Institute of America. When I get an application the first thing I look at is where someone worked. The second thing I look at his how long they worked there. Both questions are important because you get out what you put in.

AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
EZ: I want to make food that people can identify with and I want them to find it satisfying.

AB: Are there any secret ingredients that you especially like? Why?
EZ: Cubeb is a long-tail Indonesian peppercorn with a kick to it. We use it in sauces instead of black pepper and it’s great in pastrami.

AB: What flavor combinations do you favor?
EZ: I like strawberry with ginger.

AB: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
EZ: My palette knife – I use it instead of tongs for flipping things and it’s great for molding butters.

AB: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or use in an unusual way? Please describe.
EZ: I make an interesting Shabu Shabu variation by poaching foie gras tableside. In a sous-vide variation I cook protein in red wine in Cryovac bags to keep the temperature even.

AB: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
EZ: What is the difference between pressure and stress? The correct answer is preparation.

AB: What tips would you offer young chefs just getting started?
EZ: Taste! People don’t taste enough and it’s a mistake. Cooking is about manipulation. To understand the final product you must taste throughout; otherwise, you won’t understand how you got there.

AB: What are you favorite cookbooks?
EZ: Ma Gastronomie, a recipe book, sure, but it’s also a storybook, and a philosophical glimpse into someone.

AB: What cities do you like for culinary travel?
EZ: I like Bangkok for its fruit and ingredients.

AB: What are your favorite restaurants –off the beaten path—in your city?
EZ: Pho 75 in Roslyn, Virginia. They serve a simple Vietnamese noodle soup but a million different ways with your choice of fatty brisket, tripe, meatballs and more.

AB: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?
EZ: I plan to keep doing what I’m doing. I want to help build the restaurant community through encouraging young chefs and helping them get started.


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  •    Published: October 2006

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