Interview with Chef Tony Chittum of Dish and Notti Bianche – Washington, D.C.

October 2011

Antoinette Bruno: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Anthony Chittum: I started washing dishes when I was fourteen years old. I was buried in refried beans so I moved to another restaurant where I promised myself I would become a cook! I met Peter McDonuagh who showed me that cooking could be a career and I was really inspired. Then I worked with Donald Link in a more elite setting and never looked back.

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?
AC: I didn’t go to culinary school. I might have right after high school, but I wasn’t sure it made sense money-wise. I hire people either way.

AB: Who are your mentors? What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from them?
AC: Donald Link taught me all about fine dining: how to act in the kitchen, when to talk and when not to, things like that. I worked for Todd Gray for five years and he taught me a lot about the business side of cooking like watching numbers and food costs. He taught me about customers and the importance of walking though the dining room. He also taught me the importance of proper technique and seasonality.

AB: What is you philosophy on food and dining?
AC: I’m not a jacket and tie kind of guy. I believe in simple food and great, fresh ingredients. I want my customers to have a wonderful time and be comfortable.

AB: Are there any secret ingredients that you especially like? Why?
AC: I like celery because it goes with everything. You can use the whole plant: root, stalk, heart, leaves and micro greens. What can’t you do with celery?

AB: What flavor combinations do you favor?
AC: I like my foods to be well-balanced with lots of different flavors. Recently I’ve been playing around with mustard as a different way to introduce heat to my food.

AB: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
AC: Definitely my fish spatula. It’s so versatile. It’s slotted so it drains and it’s nice and thin so you can get it under things. Donald Link gave it to me.

AB: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or use in an unusual way? Please describe.
AC: I make chowder “froth,” which is clam juice, milk, celery, garlic and bacon reduced together and strained. Then I use an immersion blender to make the chowder frothy and light.

AB: What tips would you offer young chefs just getting started?
AC: Find a chef whose food is most exciting to you then do whatever it takes to get in that kitchen, even if it means washing the dishes. Stay for a year and then move on to your next favorite chef. Repeat.

AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
AC: I like Sauce, by James Peterson. He offers techniques for every sauce you can think of and gives shortcuts that don’t take away from the final product.

AB: What cities do you like for culinary travel?
AC: Spain is blowing up right now!

AB: What are your favorite restaurants –off the beaten path—in the city?
AC: I like Sette in DuPont Circle for their prosciutto and arugula pizza and Bistro du Coin for their steak frites.

AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
AC: I think science and cooking will continue to come together, but we should be careful to not overboard.

AB: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?
AC: I’d like to own an Italian-American neighborhood place with my wife, something very small with less than fifty seats.