Dish and Notti Bianche |
Born on Kent Island on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Tony
Chittum spent his youth fishing on the Chesapeake Bay where he learned
from local fishermen how to prepare the native crab and rockfish.
As a teenager, he worked in neighborhood eateries washing dishes
and earning his allowance. When Chittum met Peter McDonaugh at a
local restaurant, he realized that cooking could be a career and
enrolled in a few culinary classes at Anne Arundel Community College.
At 21 Chittum relocated to San Francisco where
he studied under Donald Link at the Elite Café.
Link exposed Chittum to the nuances of fine dining through classic
French technique as well as Cajun and Creole style cooking. In 1999,
Chittum returned to the Washington, DC to work at newly opened Equinox
restaurant under the tutelage of Todd Gray. Gray’s focus on
seasonality and proper technique made an impression on Chittum,
who quickly climbed the ranks from garde manger to sous chef and
finally chef de cuisine in 2002. He left Equinox with a
strong working knowledge of the business side of cooking and a newfound
appreciation for local, seasonal produce. Two years later Chittum
married Heather Ackerman, Pastry Chef at DC’s Dish.
The two honeymooned in Italy where they soaked up local culinary
traditions and flavors. When they returned to DC Chittum accepted
an offer to join the opening team at Aria Trattoria, creating
a menu that mirrored his gastronomic adventures through the Italian
landscape with homemade pastas and seafood dishes.
Chittum learned of the opportunity to head the
kitchens of both Dish and Notti Bianche, he could
not pass up the offer and opportunity to work closer to his wife.
Chittum joined in 2005, bringing innovative twists to seasonal Modern
American cuisine. His dishes bring a sense of comfort and ease to
fine dining while maintaining elegance. His hot chowder froth, which
complements a seasonal fish, is a light and airy version of the
classic clam chowder. Fried Middle Neck clams and simple glazed
potatoes, leeks and celery complete the dish.
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
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
AB: What are
your favorite restaurants –off the beaten path—in the
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
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.
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