Interview with Chef Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve – Washington, D.C.
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.
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.