2014 Washington, D.C. Area Rising Star Chef Michael Friedman of The Red Hen

2014 Washington, D.C. Area Rising Star Chef Michael Friedman of The Red Hen
December 2014

Like many young chefs these days, Michael Friedman was a late culinary bloomer: he graduated from Boston University's College of Communications before ever tackling his first professional kitchen. But once he landed a prep cook job at bustling French bistro Mon Ami Gabi, he knew a cook's life was the life for him.

Friedman spent three years with Rich Melman's Lettuce Entertain You group, rising to sous chef in just eight months, before enrolling in the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. During school Friedman staged in several notable restaurants, including Los Angeles' Lucques and Morimoto and The Modern in New York. Graduating at the top of his CIA class, he began working for famed Spanish Chef José Andrés at his powerhouse Eastern Mediterranean restaurant, Zaytinya. After two years with Andrés, Friedman left to travel the world, eating through Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Northern Africa, digging deep into all the cultural nuances along the way. Heading back to the United States, he spent time staging in some influential kitchens, including San Francisco's Incanto, Philadelphia's Vetri, and New York's Scarpetta.

Friedman then moved to Washington, D.C., as chef de cuisine of Proof, a wine-centric restaurant specializing in local, seasonal fare. Now at his first solo venture, The Red Hen, Friedman offers his version of modern comfort food: Italian-influenced dishes interpreted with Mid-Atlantic ingredients.

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Interview with Washington, D.C. Area Rising Star Chef Mike Friedman of The Red Hen

Meha Desai: When did you get your start cooking professionally?
Mike Friedman:
I graduated from Boston University with a communications degree, and started selling radio air-time for local radio and hated it. Nine months in, I quit. Then I ran out of money and moved back to my parents. The plan was to go to New York City and look for marketing gigs, but I couldn’t sleep at night because I was so stressed. My mom had put all her cookbooks in my room and I started reading them and they calmed me. I thought they were beautiful and creative. I was 22. I thought, why not try it out? I got a gig as a prep cook in a French restaurant in Maryland moved up to sous chef. I was there three years, made enough money to go to culinary school, and went to the CIA. 

MD: Who's been your most influential mentor?
The people I work with or have been inspired by, people I admire in the industry. Danny Meyer is a huge mentor for me, worked with him at the Modern. I learned how to be a professional in that kitchen. When Danny would come by, he knew everybody’s name. That stuck with me as I became more and more of a manager. It resonates with me. It influences how I try to run a business on daily basis.

In terms of cooking, Haidar Kuroum. When I came to Proof, I didn’t have a style. He helped me find it. He was great at getting something from the local farms and putting it on the plate. I went from chef de cuisine to co-owning my own restaurant and being an even better chef. It’s the first time I’ve been executive chef.

MD: What’s the hardest thing you’ve  had to do in your career?
Opening a restaurant. Opening MY own restaurant. 

MD: What are you most proud of?
My team. The day to day battles we go through FOH and BOH, we all go in to battle everyday, and we try to focus on what we have to do and get it done.

MD: What's your five year plan?
Same place. If we’re able to grow, we would love to. No reason to leave D.C. restaurant scene when a new generation is coming up, and we’re lucky enough to be a part of it. Maybe one or two more restaurants, one more kid, bigger house.