Rising Star Chef Cliff Wharton of TenPenh Restaurant - Biography

Washington , D.C.

August 2000

Cliff Wharton never set out to be a chef; he wanted to be a rock star. After several years in a band that never quite made it, Wharton decided that maybe he wasn't destined for a life in the music limelight. He worked in kitchens to pay the bills. Little did he know this would be the opening act for a life as a culinary superstar.

Until he was five years old Wharton lived in his mother’s homeland, the Philippines, where he learned to appreciate an array of exotic Asian flavors. At five his family moved to Kansas City where he got his first restaurant experience. Wharton followed his brother to a naval posting in San Diego where he secured a job in Executive Chef Jeff Tunks' kitchen at Loew's Coronado Bay. For a year, he worked in the hotel's restaurant under the careful guidance of Tunks, who Wharton now regards as his mentor and the man who fostered in him a serious commitment for the profession. It was not long before Tunks decided to venture to Louisiana to accept responsibility for the dining room at the prestigious Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans.

Tunks requested that Wharton join him in New Orleans as sous chef. "It was then," says Wharton, "that I realized I had chosen the right career. My desire to prove myself in the kitchen grew. I started to take things seriously when Jeff acknowledged that I had talent." As the evening sous chef at the Windsor Court, Wharton learned how to manage a kitchen. Although he claims no formal training, he insists the three years he spent at the Windsor Court were "a formal apprenticeship"—a time to refine the skills he learned on the fly as he made his way from kitchen to kitchen.

From the Big Easy, Wharton journeyed to Washington with Tunks, opening the instantly successful DC Coast Restaurant in 1998. In August 2000, Wharton rose to the position of Chef de Cuisine at DC Coast's Asian-Pacific inspired sister restaurant, TenPenh. Cooking dishes familiar to him from his childhood, Wharton builds his meals around fresh vegetables and grains, deftly seasoned with vivid spices that are roasted, ground, and blended specifically for each dish. The results? Delicious. Though we love rock and roll as much as the next bunch, we’re thrilled Wharton chose a career on the culinary stage.