January 14, 2015
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts
Chef Peter Chang
One of the featured chefs for the Sips & Suppers dinners coming up next week is Peter Chang – an elusive chef known for ditching restaurant kitchens like a discardable cell phone. At last he has found in another accomplished chef, Gen Lee, the perfect partner to build an empire. The duo has already opened six successful restaurants around Virginia, with Arlington scheduled to open early February and another outpost in Rockville in March.
I’ve been a lucky duck to sample his cuisine twice in my life – once at a sumptuous banquet when he was the executive chef at DC’s Chinese Embassy in the 90’s, though I wasn’t aware he was the chef that oversaw the dozens of dishes offered at that lavish banquet. Years later on a hot tip I sought out his cooking at an obscure Chinese restaurant in a strip mall at the corner of Duke and Van Dorn in Alexandria.
Chang doesn’t dumb down his food for American palates. And it’s not for the faint of heart. As I recall the dish was the hottest, saltiest and most addictive chili pepper chicken I’d ever experienced. I have never forgotten it. By the time I planned on a return visit, he had scampered off for parts unknown leaving a trail of desperate fanatics in his wake.
Chang, who speaks no English, allows Gen Lee to act as his spokesperson. The two have cooked together for many years.
Whisk and Quill - Do you see everything in a yin/yang balance?
Gen Lee – Yes. It’s always going to be like that for us. In Sichuan Province it is very hot and wet and filled with trees. People who live there have to eat a lot of spicy food that’s why they use the Sichuan peppers.
Does Peter cook in one of the VA restaurants now?
Not on a daily basis. He cooks for parties and special events, but he also checks on every restaurant on a weekly basis. He’s very strict about that. I can’t tell you which restaurant he is cooking in at any given time, but he’s always cooking and he’s always training his cooks to get it right. We’re happy if its 90% right, because our recipes are very, very difficult. We don’t use sauce. For ten years when Peter and I worked as corporate chefs on a riverboat on the Yangtze River, we did the real, real Sichuan there.
How young was Peter when he first started cooking?
He was in high school. He always knew he wanted to cook and he went to cooking school at 18. He always watched his grandma cooking and helped her make lots of vegetarian dishes. You know, we don’t use much meat, but lots of vegetables mushrooms and such.
Does Peter listen to music when he’s cooking?
No, it’s very difficult. Everything is very quick. There are 20 different spices – different ones for different dishes – and it all happens fast.
What are some of the restaurants’ signature dishes?
The cumin lamb chops and bamboo fish, and everyone orders the dry-fried eggplant cut like steak fries.
Would you say your dishes are classic Sichuan?
Yes, it’s his specialty. But, for example, they don’t use lamb chops in China and the difference is the ingredients are better quality here.
Lately American chefs are using Asian ingredients in fusion cuisine and mixing things up. Where do you see this going?
A lot of chefs try it using French techniques. They are not using the real Chinese techniques and that worries me. These chefs are not Chinese. They are Hispanic or Korean. There are only a handful of real Chinese chefs here in America.
Chinese food has been losing favor to Thai and Korean in the past decade or so. Do you hope to bring back Chinese food to its earlier popularity?
Our dream is to bring back the real Chinese food, not just to make money. In a few years we know we can retire, but it’s not about that. Right now we have six restaurants. Already in our Richmond restaurant we are doing 500-600 a day. It’s like a war zone with like 100 people in line every day.
Will you be opening in the Northern Virginia area soon?
Yes, we will have two more restaurants – – one in Arlington and soon after in Rockville.
This interview was conducted, edited and condensed by Jordan Wright.
Dozens of prestigious local, national and world-renowned chefs will prepare the Sips & Suppers dinners on Sunday, January 25th. A separate evening of chef’s treats and cocktails takes place on Saturday, January 24th. Expect appearances by Joan Nathan, Jose Andres and Alice Waters. For further information and to purchase tickets to the fundraiser for Martha’s Table and DC Central Kitchen visit www.sips2015.eventbrite.com and www.suppers2015.eventbrite.com.
October 22, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
Mary Kate Morrissey (Sharon Falconer), Nova Y. Payton (Mary Washington) and Charlie Pollock (Elmer Gantry) – Photo by Margot Schulman.
Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer has gone back to the well to remount Elmer Gantry, a show he co-produced in DC with writer John Bishop, composer Mel Marvin and lyricist Bob Satuloff sixteen years ago. Reimagined by the original team, this massive musical based on Sinclair Lewis’ quintessential novel now boasts several new numbers and a re-worked script.
Backed by a ten-piece orchestra, there is a great deal of heart and soul in this redemptive tale of a down-on-his-luck preacher and a young, ambitious evangelist, Sister Sharon Falconer. When Gantry (Charlie Pollock), a traveling farm equipment salesman on his last dime, watches the second-rate religious troupe at a revival meeting, he seizes the opportunity to join them, wooing the beautiful Sharon and transforming their hokey act into a big time, holy roller spectacle filled with gospel singing, Sunday go-to-meeting psalms and mournful folk songs. “People want to feel that heat in their lives. They want to laugh. They want to cry!” he tells her. And by the time they get to Topeka, Gantry has created a full-blown, berobed, hallelujah choir, and the pair’s sermonizing has reached a feverish pitch.
Ashley Buster (Epatha Washington), Nova Y. Payton (Mary Washington), Daphne Epps (Grace Washington) – Photo by Margot Schulman.
It’s at this point, midway through Act I with the addition of three gospel-singing sisters led by Nova Y. Payton, where the show truly catches fire. The Washington Sisters played by Payton, Ashley Buster and Daphne Epps bring a huge, near dwarfing presence to the rest of the chorus. In “Carry that Ball”, a football-themed spiritual that substitutes the word “touchdown” for “hallelujah”, Payton takes her singing to the rafters, electrifying the audience and juicing up the show.
Mary Kate Morrissey (Sharon Falconer) and company – Photo by Margot Schulman.
Mary Kate Morrissey does a fine job as the ambitious and charismatic Sister Sharon whose past is as suspect as Gantry’s. In the tender tune, “You Don’t Know Who I Am”, she lets him know she has had to reinvent herself in order to evolve.
Unfortunately believable and powerfully passionate performances by Morrissey et alia are not matched by Pollock, whose uneven performance especially in Act II (he runs out of steam in their big duet “With You” and his solo turn in “My American Dream”), unreliable voice, and buzz cut hairstyle with trendy facial stubble, all contribute to his seeming out of date and out of sync with the other actors.
Charlie Pollock (Elmer Gantry) and Bobby Smith (Frank Shallard) – Photo by Margot Schulman.
Watch for Bobby Smith, outstanding as Frank Shallard, Gantry’s slick-as-a-snake associate; and Harry A. Winter as Bob Faucher, the unscrupulous banker, to keep this revival afloat.
Through November 9th 2014 at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.
September 25, 2014
Photo credit – Jordan Wright
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts
Event Chair David Hagedorn in lime green tie
When Washington Post food writer David Hagedorn is doing the asking, big name chefs and restaurateurs respond. Though we didn’t see her there, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who married David and his partner, Michael Widomski, last fall, are on his speed dial.
The noted cookbook author chaired the Human Rights Campaign LGBT “Chefs For Equality” evening of food and fun Tuesday night at the Ritz-Carlton West End in one of the most delicious events of the season. Two hundred chefs and their crews, plus some of the city’s top mixologists (if you hate that moniker, move along) prepared tastings for the guests who were dazzled by splashy drag queens, assorted pols and a ballroom filled with damned good looking men and their gal pals.
VIP table settings
Some of the most scrumptious bites came courtesy of Todd Gray and Chris Edwards of Salamander Resort & Spa (the concord grape jelly made from a neighbor’s vines was to die for); Michelle and Christophe Poteaux of Bastille whose foie gras mousse was topped with pear confit and toasted hazelnuts; Tim Ma of Water & Wall and Maple Avenue who served an Asian Chicken Soup; and Brian Noyes of Red Truck Bakery whose Chocolate Moonshine Cake (a Mason jar filled with the local firewater from Belmont Distillery) was a mouthful of pillowy, boozy chocolate cake.
(Left to Right) Brian Noyes of Red Truck Bakery – Tim Ma of Water & Wall – Brent Sick Del Frisco’s Grille
We also noshed on nibbles and sips from K. N. Vinod of Indique Heights, Mitch Berliner of MeatCrafters, Jamie Leeds of Hank’s Oyster Bar, Gina Chersevani of Buffalo & Bergen, Aaron McCloud of Cedar, Ris Lacoste of RIS, Tarver King of The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm, Jeff Faile of Neighborhood Restaurant Group and David Guas of Bayou Bakery whose “American Grilled” show is on the Travel Channel.
(Left to Right) Aaron McCloud of Cedar – Brinn Sinnott of Le Diplomate – Michael Friedman of The Red Hen
Salt & Sundry provided swag bags for the VIPs who sat together at tables lavishly decorated by their individual hosts. Their specialty dinners were prepared by uber-chefs Robert Wiedmaier (Marcel’s), Michel Richard (Central Michel Richard), Patrick O’Connell (The Inn at Little Washington), Frank Ruta (now baking with Mark Furstenberg at Bread Furst), Peter Chang (soon to open in Bethesda) Tony Conte (The Oval Room), Scott Drewno (The Source), Jeremiah Langhorne (formerly of McCrady’s soon to open a DC outpost), and Fabio Trabocchi (Fiola and Casa Luca).
(Left to Right) Felicia Beefeater aka A. J. Dronkers with Jordan Wright – Todd Gray and Chris Edwards with team from Salamander – Gus DiMillo and Jeff Tunks of Passion Food Hospitality
But it was all one big happy family there to celebrate this year’s Gay Rights successes and to push for Marriage Equality in Virginia. Star power came courtesy of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe who wooed the joyful crowd with his promise of support for gay marriage in the “Virginia is for Lovers” state.
Bryan Sorrentino’s cake from Charm City Cakes
March 10, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
Anna Fagan (Catherine) and Chuck Leonard (Robert) -
Photos by Matt Liptak
Catherine (Anna Fagan) lives with her professor father in an unsettling world of mental illness somewhat reminiscent of the film A Beautiful Mind. Robert (Chuck Leonard), a brilliant mathematician whose elegant formulas and research on prime numbers have dazzled his peers, believes aliens are sending him messages through the Dewey Decimal System. He suffers from major depression and psychotic episodes that Catherine fears could be genetic. “Crazy people don’t ask each other if they’re nuts,” he explains when she holes up in her room reading fashion magazines.
When Hal (Josh Goldman), a former student of Robert’s, “He’s on the infinite program,” Robert jokes, comes to their home in hopes of discovering publishable formulas, Catherine, a math whiz in her own right, gets suspicious that Hal might be stealing the material to self-attribute and we watch as she spirals into a depression of her own. But the pair needs each other. Their discussion of Sophie Germaine, an actual 18th C mathematician who hid her genius by writing under a man’s name, portends things to come. Could Catherine be as brilliant as her famous father?
Anna Fagan (Catherine) and Elizabeth Keith (Claire) – Photo Matt Liptak
When her sister Claire (Elizabeth Keith) shows up at the family’s suburban house to make funeral arrangements, she insists her Catherine cannot handle life alone and determines to take her sister back with her to New York City to seek psychiatric help.
Proof, set in the 1990’s, switches back and forth over a four-year period and covers Catherine’s close relationship with her father, her testy but compliant relationship with Claire, and her curious partnership with Hal. The tidy four-person cast handles complex emotional turns with ease in this Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning play written by David Auburn.
Anna Fagan (Catherine) and Josh Goldman (Hal) – Photo Matt Liptak
In a deeply engrossing script tinged with wry comedy, the play explores mental illness as related to genius and presents a storyline as complicated as it is uplifting. Susan Devine, who consulted with the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Flint Hill School teacher William VanLear to gain insight on the topic, directs an impressive cast that has both the strength and confidence the story demands. Leonard, who himself is a director and reminds this reviewer of John Cleese, captures the humor and subtleties of his role, while Fagan demonstrates her total immersion in a tricky role that swings from upbeat to somber at the drop of a hat. Goldman, who has appeared in several LTA productions, proves he has an impressive range – – while Keith, another LTA alum, gives a shining performance as the self-centered sister.
Through March 29th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com
Thank you dear readers for pursuing life’s intriguing and ever-evolving adventures with Whisk and Quill in 2013. This December celebrates my sixth year as a food and travel writer and third year as theatre critic for the Alexandria Times. And though my life has gravitated more to the keyboard than cooktop, to the frequent inquiries about my work as a chef, I say, “Yes! I still enjoy catering private events.”
This year I shared my column, “Nibbles and Sips Around Town”, with the area’s most comprehensive theatre website, www.DCMetroTheaterArts.com. Since they share their content with www.BroadwayStars.com, I now have the only non-theatre column on both sites.
One of the biggest surprises of the year was when Indian Country Today magazine, where I have contributed pieces on American Indian Culture and the Arts for the last three years, chose my feature story on the discovery of the long-lost silent film, The Daughter of Dawn as one of their “Top Ten Best Stories of the Year”. And in keeping with neighborhood participation, in June I was chosen as the sole judge for the “Taste of Del Ray”, one of the most fun events I have ever participated in.
For www.TheCredits.org the website of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) I interviewed leading Hollywood directors Ariel Vromen and James Franco, Academy Award-winning Superman musical composer, Hans Zimmer, and writer-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash of The Way, Way Back.
I even had the opportunity to interview a Cirque de Soleil artist and the Artistic Director of Cavalia when those shows raised their tents in town. Noted Jazz musicians Ski Johnson (Saxophonist), Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and Marcus Johnson (Keyboardist) were featured on our site this year too, as were interviews with songstresses Iris DeMent and Grace Potter.
There were articles on local, national and internationally renowned chefs, tons of restaurant reviews, food events, farmers, vintners (Barefoot Wine founder Michael Houlihan was featured in February), breweries, new food products (Jose Andres launched a line of Spanish delicacies), and cookbooks with so many local chefs publishing this year (check out December’s column). I even braved a chef-driven “Snakeheads at the Harbor” dinner in Georgetown…all in the name of research, don’t you know.
Travel took us from Oxford, MD along the Chesapeake Bay and Culpeper, Virginia to Airlie House and the Castleton Festival in the Virginia countryside, and later to Tallahassee and Wakulla County, Florida where we ate as many oysters and shrimp as the law would allow. All the while meeting innovative chefs, farmers, musicians and those whose spirits would raise ours to new heights.
Wines were especially high on the “To Do” list with tastings of Greek, Israeli, Brazilian, French, American, New Zealand and Serbian vintages. In celebration of her recently published memoirs, I shared a lovely lunch at Fiola with Margrit Mondavi, the “First Lady of Napa Valley” and “Grande Dame” of the Mondavi Winery. We also visited the Stillhouse Distillery to learn how they make their whiskey and bourbon, an experience I shared with readers in August.
In the “Travel” section posh properties were scrutinized or extolled, while in the “Theatre” section dozens of shows were picked or panned – all without one single advertiser on our Whisk and Quill website.
In July we were thrilled to welcome a very special guest contributor to Whisk and Quill. Cary Pollak is an accomplished chef and well-known DC area food writer. He’s also a successful attorney, but we won’t hold that against him. Pollak has already given us exciting stories on New York’s Fancy Food Show, DC’s Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show, a recipe for his glorious French Fruit Tarte (Pollak also hosts cooking classes on baking and East Indian cooking), a “Celebration of the Grape” at Zaytinya, a November piece on Ridgewell’s turning 85 years-old, and a comprehensive piece on his travels to Central Texas and the food scene there. Look for more terrific stories from Pollak in the upcoming months.
So here’s to 2014 and another year of reporting to inspire, tempt and dazzle you to create your own journeys. Let’s drink a cuppa kindness, or whatever lovely spirits you may have handy, for the auld year and for a scintillating, theatrical and scrumptious New Year!