Interview with Chef Tony Conte of The Oval Room – Washington, D.C.

December 13

Will Blunt: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Tony Conte: At first cooking was just a job but then it sort of turned into a profession. It wasn’t a plan but I love the creative freedom of being a chef.

WB: 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?
TC: I think experience in the kitchen is the most important thing. I know I wish I’d had more experience before I went to culinary school but I hire people who are passionate and qualified, whether or not they went to school. If they went to school it’s a plus, but it’s certainly not a requirement.

WB: Who are your mentors? What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from them?
TC: Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Eugene Gerome. I loved working with both of them because I enjoy the simplicity and integrity of their food.

WB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
TC: Keep it simple and delicious.

WB: What flavor combinations do you favor?
TC: I like big, bold, in-your-face flavors.

WB: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool?
TC: My Vita-prep.

WB: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
TC: I really just want to see them in the kitchen and get a sense for their comfort level.

WB: What is your favorite cookbook?
TC: Whatever I’m reading right now. I buy a lot of cookbooks and read them cover to cover but I usually don’t look at them again. I enjoy reading them but they’re not a reference.

WB: What cities do you like for culinary travel?
TC: I like New York and Boston. San Francisco has great Italian food and I like the Latin influence of cuisine in Miami.

WB: What are you favorite restaurants—off the beaten path—in your city?
TC: Not that I have much time to dine out but I like Two Amys a lot. I think it’s the best pizza in town and that’s why I go there.

WB: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
TC: In 5 years I’d like to own a high-end French restaurant. In 10 years, I’d like to retire!