Len DePas Photography


Tony Conte
The Oval Room
800 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC 20006
(202) 463-8700

Recipe »

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.

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Tony Conte
The Oval Room | Washington DC

Born and raised in New Haven, Connecticut, Tony Conte followed his passion to The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. He spent the early part of his career honing his skills close to home at Sole e Luna Ristorante in Westport and then advanced to the position of Executive Sous Chef for the Greenwich Country Club and the Belmont Country Club in Belmont, Massachusetts.

Conte soaked up the nuances of fine dining as Chef de Partie at JoJo, a contemporary French restaurant owned by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, before going on to the position of executive chef and co-owner of Pesce in Branford, Connecticut. During his tenure, the restaurant earned Connecticut Magazine’s “Best New Restaurant 2002” and Taste of Nation’s “Golden Fork Award” Best Food in Show 2001. Conte joined Jean Georges in 2003, responsible for menu innovation, research and development, product management, assessment and culinary training, as well as purchasing and food costs. As Executive Sous Chef of Jean Georges, Conte worked closely with Vongerichten and adopted the concept of simplicity from his mentor.

At The Oval Room, Conte applies the refined sensibility of his mentor in his daring and composed dishes, matching unlikely ingredients like horseradish and beetroot in his Baby Beet Salad for a successful burst of clean flavor.

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Interview Cont'd

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!

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   Published: October 2006