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A Chat With Cathal Armstrong


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#1 DonRocks

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Posted 01 August 2005 - 11:38 AM

I'm pleased to welcome Chef Cathal Armstrong as our next guest here. Cathal will be onboard for the next week-or-so fielding questions. Please feel free to begin asking questions now.

Cathal, THANK YOU for taking the time to be with us - you have many admirers here, and you can count me as one of them.

And here's a brief bio of Cathal:

Cathal Armstrong, Executive Chef and Owner of Restaurant Eve (110 S. Pitt Street, Alexandria, Virginia, 703.706.0450, www.restauranteve.com) was born into a family with a passion for food. Cathal (silent t), a native Dubliner, grew up in a family unlike any other in Dublin at the time; they had a fruit and vegetable garden, ate plenty of garlic and had their own travel business. Through his father’s eyes, during their travels, Cathal was exposed to many different countries, cultures and cuisines. According to Armstrong, “My father is a natural, a great cook.” As they traveled to neighboring European countries, Cathal was introduced to the wealth of the food world.

From the mountains of Spain to the piazzas of Italy, Cathal experienced the tastes and aromas of fresh paella and pasta, developing an appreciation of gastronomy. However, it was in France, at the tender age of seven, that Cathal began his annual student exchange and his food curriculum for life. Each summer, he lived with the same family, the Boudains’, returning to the truffle farms, peasant food and local farmers gently tending their vineyards. Those influences taught Cathal the importance of fresh produce, the value of animals and respect for the land.

At the age of 20, he and two partners opened The Baytree, a fine dining restaurant in the Dublin suburbs. Two years’ tenure and a desire to learn more of his craft led him to America. Cooking school may have been in his future, but a quick stopover in the Nation’s Capitol headed the agenda. Once in Washington, he was befriended by great chefs and decided he would stay ‘for just a while.’

For three years he worked in the kitchen of New Heights, a restaurant known for producing talent. Then he moved to Cities where the cuisine changed yearly. In 1994, the Spanish owned Barcelό hotel recruited him as sous chef of Gabriel Restaurant. 1995 found him employed as Sous Chef of the nationally acclaimed Vidalia restaurant under the tutelage of chef/owner Jeffrey Buben. In 1998, Jeffrey Buben opened Bistro Bis in the Hotel George, where Cathal took the reins of the new kitchen as chef. During the four years the kitchen was under Cathal’s direction, the restaurant received local and national accolades.

At Restaurant Eve, Armstrong presents his version of simple, straightforward cuisine, sourcing the highest quality ingredients. Almost all of their ingredients come from local producers who grow organic products and Cathal and his team scour the local farmers market every day. “Growing up on our farm, almost everything we ate, came straight from the garden”, explains Armstrong. “Our food went right from the earth to the plate, maintaining their original flavors.”

In addition to the Bistro Dining Room, Armstrong’s cuisine takes center stage in the Tasting Room. Guests may choose wither 5 or 9 course prix fixe menus. Highlights include the stunning Lobster Crème Brûlée with Baby Fennel and Tarragon Vinaigrette, which features a small pot of crème brûlée with a creamy lobster filling, a poached lobster salad with fennel and lobster bottarga aioli. One of the house favorites, the Braised Beef Short Ribs with Pickled Red Onions and Salsify, is cooked for 12 hours, so the meat almost melts in your mouth.

Cathal has cooked for many notables, including Senator Kennedy, Former First Lady Hillary Clinton, Julia Child, Don Rockwell and David Bowie. His fondest memory? When he cooked a private dinner for President Bush, the First Lady and 14 of their closest friends and to hear, from the President himself, “So, when is your restaurant opening?”

Twelve years after first arriving in Washington, DC, Cathal and his wife Meshelle have opened Restaurant Eve (named for their first child) in Old Town, Alexandria, where he lives with his two children who may someday utter the words, “My father is a natural; a great cook!” Currently five year old Eve looks at her baby brother Eamonn, smiles and says, “Don’t worry…you’ll have one next.”

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#2 Jacques Gastreaux

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Posted 01 August 2005 - 04:18 PM

Chef Cathal:

Thanks for taking some time out of your busy schedule to take some questions from the left field bleachers.

Restaurant Eve is known for its focus on high quality seasonal ingredients. For instance, recenlty you took the spring lamb off of the menu because it is no long spring and therefore spring lambs are no longer available. My question has to do with your ability to source such high quality seasonal ingredients. How much of your time do you spend looking for new sources and how far are you willing to travel in your quest? Can you give us some examples of the lengths you go in order to source the ingredients that ultimately wind up on the plates at Restaurant Eve.

And thanks again taking the time chat with us.
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#3 Cathal Armstrong

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Posted 01 August 2005 - 05:03 PM

Chef Cathal:

Thanks for taking some time out of your busy schedule to take some questions from the left field bleachers. 

Restaurant Eve is known for its focus on high quality seasonal ingredients.  For instance, recenlty you took the spring lamb off of the menu because it is no long spring and therefore spring lambs are no longer available.  My question has to do with your ability to source such high quality seasonal ingredients.  How much of your time do you spend looking for new sources and how far are you willing to travel in your quest?  Can you give us some examples of the lengths you go in order to source the ingredients that ultimately wind up on the plates at Restaurant Eve.

And thanks again taking the time chat with us.

Thanks for your question Monsieur Gastreaux,

Most of what I look for is ingredients I can get from harvest to plate with the least amount of time and manipulation. There is clear scientific evidence that these products are better but have you ever been blackberry picking? They don't taste the same when you get them home and even worse still the next day, the best berries are right there in the field. I look for peas that tasted like the one's my Dad grew. Nothing tastes better.

We start there then build dishes and menus from these basic foundationds. I spend a lot of time with small farmers, feed them, get into their hearts and convince them to grow what I want.

The produce for the most part is easy now, there are great markets around with tons to choose from. Meat and Fish are much trickier products to procure. I was brought up on fresh beef and no fancy terms like "Dry Aged" or worse "Wet Aged" will ever convince me that they are better than fresh. This takes great effort and we just spend hours on the internet or on the phone hunting suppliers,

Another unique resource we have is other Chefs. Fabio and Eric and others are good friends, we often trade suppliers. This saves a good amount of time.

In a given week we will order food from about 130 vendors.
Owner and Chef

Restaurant Eve
110 S. Pitt St.
Alexandria, VA 22314

(703) 706-0450

#4 hillvalley

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Posted 01 August 2005 - 11:28 PM

Chef, I have a few questions about the importance of eating local food when it is in season.

First, how would you explain to someone, who thinks they know about food and have a good palate, the importance of eating a tomato only when it is in season and not when it appears in their dish in the middle of March? People tend to think I am a bit obsessive, if not down right crazy, because I refuse to eat certain (if not most) produce out of season.

Second, I am someone who, like you, believes in the importance of eating locally and in season. Yet lettuce is something I eat year round without hesitation. Does this make me a hypocrite, as I have been called? How do you explain to the tomato person mentioned above the difference between eating a great tomato for only a few months but eating lettuce in February?

Finally, what do you do for fresh produce and herbs in the winter? Do you ever break down and buy some Driscolls just to remind yourself of what summer will bring?

Thanks!

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#5 brr

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Posted 02 August 2005 - 08:38 AM

Cathal

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Hopefully my question is not too off topic, as strictly speaking it does not pertain to the Washington DC dining scene.

<Begin shameless asskissing>Your cooking is without a doubt the best I have ever tasted from an Irish chef and I admire the way that you integrate traditional Irish food such as black pudding into top notch dishes worthy of any table<End shameless asskissing>

I'm wondering if when you return to Ireland on visits are there are other chefs whose work you admire/would seek out. One of my favorites is Neven Maguire, who operates a top class bistro in the wilds of Co. Cavan, using many local and organic ingredients like you do.

#6 Tweaked

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Posted 02 August 2005 - 08:57 AM

Chef, there seems to be a unique synergy between you and Todd "Evil Genius" Thrasher...I mean what other bar makes their own tonic water from scratch!

Can you get into a little more about how you two met? how do you two work together to combine the "front of the house" bar area with the restaurant area? and do the two of you ever get into any mad competitions over who can create the most off the wall concoctions?

Also, I took my parents to Eve over memorial day weekend and your pork belly kicked ass...my mom ordered the lamb and there was some braised lamb shoulder as part of the dish....can you describe your method for making the braised lamb shoulder...it equally kicked ass!

Thanks

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#7 Cathal Armstrong

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Posted 02 August 2005 - 11:38 AM

Cathal

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Hopefully my question is not too off topic, as strictly speaking it does not pertain to the Washington DC dining scene.

<Begin shameless asskissing>Your cooking is without a doubt the best I have ever tasted from an Irish chef and I admire the way that you integrate traditional Irish food such as black pudding into top notch dishes worthy of any table<End shameless asskissing>

I'm wondering if when you return to Ireland on visits are there are other chefs whose work you admire/would seek out. One of my favorites is Neven Maguire, who operates a top class bistro in the wilds of Co. Cavan, using many local and organic ingredients like you do.


My favorite Chef in Ireland is still Derry Clarke, he and his wife own a lovely restaurant in Dublin called L'Ecrivain. I also admire the work in the kitchens of the famed Ballymaloe House, it is farm style fresh food with no pretense.
It is interesting that the population grew in Ireland in 1997 for the first time since the famine of 1884. A lot of this growth is a result of emmigrants returning from the US and Europe because of the ecenomic boom Ireland has seen in the last 10 years. Some of these people are of course chefs and they have returned educated and quite able. There has been a great surge in the development of Irish cuisine, similar to modern American cuisine, and towns like Kenmare are now being called "the culinary capital". It's great to see. There's still a lot of crap though.
Owner and Chef

Restaurant Eve
110 S. Pitt St.
Alexandria, VA 22314

(703) 706-0450

#8 Cathal Armstrong

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Posted 02 August 2005 - 12:11 PM

Chef, I have a few questions about the importance of eating local food when it is in season. 

First, how would you explain to someone, who thinks they know about food and have a good palate, the importance of eating a tomato only when it is in season and not when it appears in their dish in the middle of March?  People tend to think I am a bit obsessive, if not down right crazy, because I refuse to eat certain (if not most) produce out of season.

Second, I am someone who, like you, believes in the importance of eating locally and in season.  Yet lettuce is something I eat year round without hesitation.  Does this make me a hypocrite, as I have been called?  How do you explain to the tomato person mentioned above the difference between eating a great tomato for only a few months but eating lettuce in February?

Finally, what do you do for fresh produce and herbs in the winter?  Do you ever break down and buy some Driscolls just to remind yourself of what summer will bring?

Thanks!

Tomatoes are amazing when they are in season, lush, juicy, sweet, full of flavor. When they are not in season they suck. Very easy, tomatoes are fruits of the earth, the require nitrate for sustenance, the get this from the earth through the root structure and the vine, eliminate this food source and the fruit starts to consume itself converting its natural sugar to starch....then you have a grainy, bland tomato. Tomatoes also need sun to ripen, like all fruit, so they ripen in the summer, you have to ask yourself where the tomatoes come from in March. The answer is geneticaly altered fruit designed to sacrifice flavor for extended shelf life, then they are washed with wax and kept in cold storage for months, sounds like a bad sience project to me.


As far as lettuce is concerned you could argue that its not the same thing because it is such a subtle flavor even at the acme of its season. Very little lettuce is grown in the ground any more, most of it is either hydropnic or in little plastic trays. Both methods are terrible. These plants require great amounts of nutrients to develop their true flavors, most people don't know what Arugula really tastes like for example...sooo peppery it almost burns the palate. So the grass we call mesclun in February for the most part tastes like the grass we call mesclun in May. Unless.... you find a farmer like David Lankford who shares the same passion for flavor as I do and learns how to manipulate.

Driscoll? Four letter word. Never, never. I just don't offer berries in the winter, there are plenty of interesing winter and dried fruits. I also buy large amounts of fruits when the are at the peek of their season and make jams and preserves for the winter, just like my Grandmother did. The smell in the kitchen at that time takes me back 30 years.
Also I mentioned my friend David Lankford (who is in serious financial trouble, but that's another story) He has 4 acres under greenhouse(one of his houses is the size of 3 football fields) and has had great success with necessities for the winter. He even brought me a few pints of local strawberries for Christmas. No genetic altering just tricking the plants with heat and light for the most part.

The bottom line...Flavor isn't everything, is't the only thing.
Owner and Chef

Restaurant Eve
110 S. Pitt St.
Alexandria, VA 22314

(703) 706-0450

#9 Cathal Armstrong

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Posted 02 August 2005 - 12:31 PM

Chef, there seems to be a unique synergy between you and Todd "Evil Genius" Thrasher...I mean what other bar makes their own tonic water from scratch! 

Can you get into a little more about how you two met?  how do you two work together to combine the "front of the house" bar area with the restaurant area? and do the two of you ever get into any mad competitions over who can create the most off the wall concoctions?

Also, I took my parents to Eve over memorial day weekend and your pork belly kicked ass...my mom ordered the lamb and there was some braised lamb shoulder as part of the dish....can you describe your method for making the braised lamb shoulder...it equally kicked ass!

Thanks


Todd and Chef de Cuisine Nathan Beauchamp and I have a unusual relationship. I work to develop a creative team unlike many restaurants that are supreme dictatorships. We learn from each other and then usually I have the final say(which really means my wife has the final say, but I like to pretend I'm in charge, you know... the whole ego thing with boys right??)
Tonic is a good example of how we work, I came in one day and said let's make tonic. So Todd went online and found a source for Quinine, so we bought some. This bag of brown powder shows up a few days later and we taste it and it is disgusting, so it sits on the shelf for a few weeks while we look for processed quinine tabs to no avail, then we started to experiment with the nasty brown powder, each of us like Harry Potter mixing our concotions, comparing and blending and then finally voting on the best one. We found the secret by accident, we made a green papaya salad for another dish and when I tasted it with the dressing we made I said, hey that tastes like tonic.

When I first met Todd he already had a great creative sense for cocktails but a big turning point for him I think was when he went to the store and bought strawberries for a cocktail. When I asked him what he was doing he said he didn't want to us our good berries for a drink, I threw away those berries and explained to him that the cocktails are just as important as the food and we should us only the best ingredients at the bar just like we do in the kitchen. It just makes sense to me.



The lamb shoulder is much like a daube, after it is braised we strain the liquid and reduce it to syrup like consistency then fold the picked meat back into the sauce. You end up with just intense flavor.
Owner and Chef

Restaurant Eve
110 S. Pitt St.
Alexandria, VA 22314

(703) 706-0450

#10 FunnyJohn

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Posted 02 August 2005 - 02:19 PM

When he cooked a private dinner for President Bush, the First Lady and 14 of their closest friends and to hear, from the President himself, “So, when is your restaurant opening?”

Which one -- 41 or 43? And where, at the WH or elswhere?

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#11 DonRocks

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Posted 02 August 2005 - 02:21 PM

Which one -- 41 or 43? And where, at the WH or elswhere?

[I assure you it was 43, as Cathal was still in diapers 12 years ago.

This is a fascinating chat so far! (translation: don't even think of going here) :P ]

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#12 FunnyJohn

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Posted 02 August 2005 - 02:24 PM

[I assure you it was 43, as Cathal was still in diapers 12 years ago.

This is a fascinating chat so far! (translation:  don't even think of going here)  :wub: ]

But of course. However I had to ask because this gives the lie to W's reputation as purely a BBQ and steak man. The First Lady is another matter as we know her to frequent both Mendocino and visit at least once Sonoma. :P
Edited to return to topic:
Cathal, the bio Rocks has provided is very interesting. I suppose you are familiar with Bourdain's description of his first food epiphany in France -- eating an oyster just plucked from somewhere around Normandy (I think). What was your first or most memorable food epiphany?

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#13 Cathal Armstrong

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Posted 03 August 2005 - 12:00 AM

But of course.  However I had to ask because this gives the lie to W's reputation as purely a BBQ and steak man.  The First Lady is another matter as we know her to frequent both Mendocino and visit at least once Sonoma.  :P
Edited to return to topic:
Cathal, the bio Rocks has provided is very interesting.  I suppose you are familiar with Bourdain's description of his first food epiphany in France -- eating an oyster just plucked from somewhere around Normandy (I think).  What was your first or most memorable food epiphany?


It was W. As it turns out he and his friends like to hunt and then eat. So Venison, Dove and Quail were on the menu thet night,

My most vivid childhood food memory was when we went to visit my father's friend Ramiro Ivora's grandmother in the mountains above Alicante. The men went out in the field and caught rabbits and skinned them alive in the kitchen in front of us and cleaned them for the Paella. I can still see the rabbit bucking and taste the rice. There was no bravado just a necessary sacrifice for the benefit of the guests. I think I must have been 5 or 6.
Owner and Chef

Restaurant Eve
110 S. Pitt St.
Alexandria, VA 22314

(703) 706-0450

#14 Stretch

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Posted 03 August 2005 - 08:30 AM

Chef,

Don mentioned in his intro how your path in life was influenced by your parents' love of food and travel. Now that you're a parent yourself, what's your take on how best (other than opening your own restaurant named after them) to get kids enthused about food and cooking and accustomed to eating out?
Looking back on your career so far, what would you most like tell your younger self just starting out in the business if you could meet him today?
What's next for you and the family? Do you see yourselves mainly concentrating on Eve in years to come, or are there still other things you'd like to do?

Many thanks.

PS: When are you on Iron Chef?

Edited by Stretch, 03 August 2005 - 09:13 AM.

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#15 Cathal Armstrong

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Posted 03 August 2005 - 12:02 PM

Chef,

Don mentioned in his intro how your path in life was influenced by your parents' love of food and travel. Now that you're a parent yourself, what's your take on how best (other than opening your own restaurant named after them) to get kids enthused about food and cooking and accustomed to eating out?
Looking back on your career so far, what would you most like tell your younger self just starting out in the business if you could meet him today?
What's next for you and the family? Do you see yourselves mainly concentrating on Eve in years to come, or are there still other things you'd like to do?

Many thanks.

PS: When are you on Iron Chef?

I don't know what the answer is with kids, I know when we were raised we were taught to eat what we got and be glad of it, there was no leaving anything on your plate either. I try to encourage my kids to eat, I sneek things in and don't tell them about it and I try not to make dinner a chore for them.
When I grew up in Dublin there were eight of us in the family, my father had a very sucessful business for a while but the government owned airline changed some rules overnight and forced a lot of travel agents out of business so we went from being comfortable middle class to struggling for some years before my father started a new smaller firm focusing on business travel. We learned to enjoy what we had, Sunday dinner was chicken for the special day that was in it, 1 chicken between the eight of us. Nothing was ever wasted, the carcass became soup for the next day and my father grew everything he could in the garden. So...going to a restaurant for us was a very rare and special occasion, we bathed and put on our Sunday best and behaved ourselves. Besides the restaurants in Dublin at the time were all expensive. My kids go to restaurants often and it's funny for me to look at them with coloring books and toys at the table, my father would have a heart attack. I turned out ok his way, they'll turn out ok my way.


I would tell myself to stick it out in college studying computer programming, much less work, much more money, much less pratts telling me that what I put my heart and soul into 16 hours a day six days a week is "nothing special", "no wow factor".

Next....something for Eamonn. But Eve will always have my undivided attention.


Iron Chef? Too easy.

Edited by Cathal Armstrong, 03 August 2005 - 12:05 PM.

Owner and Chef

Restaurant Eve
110 S. Pitt St.
Alexandria, VA 22314

(703) 706-0450

#16 crackers

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Posted 03 August 2005 - 12:11 PM

Next....something for Eamonn.

Restaurant Eamonn Shoot - featuring venison, quail, dove and other fine delicacies from the wild. :P
Tequila, scorpion honey, harsh dew of the doglands, essence of Aztec, crema de cacti; tequila, oily and thermal like the sun in solution; tequila, liquid geometry of passion; Tequila, the buzzard god who copulates in midair with the ascending souls of dying virgins; tequila, firebug in the house of good taste; O tequila, savage water of sorcery, what confusion and mischief your sly, rebellious drops do generate!

#17 monavano

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Posted 03 August 2005 - 12:37 PM

Chef Armstrong,


My husband and I took his parents to dinner in your tasting room about 2 months ago. Our experience was special, wow and really memorable. I feel so fortunate to have Eve nearby for an amazing cocktail and apps, to the Bistro and the occasional treat of the tasting room.

Well, the tasting room was my first meal there, and I was impressed at how you and your staff manage to present delicious meals which are painstakingly prepared and presented with impeccable timing and grace.


Could you elaborate a bit on what it takes to orchestrate meals in your tasting room? How many prep/ sous chefs, how many servers etc. How do you get it to come together? Regarding staff training: Does your staff do wine and food tastings to be able to advise guests ?


Thank you and know that you're hard work and dedication is appreciated.
Cheers,

An anti-pratt

#18 Cathal Armstrong

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Posted 03 August 2005 - 12:55 PM

Chef Armstrong,
My husband and I took his parents to dinner in your tasting room about 2 months ago. Our experience was special, wow and really memorable. I feel so fortunate to have Eve nearby for an amazing cocktail and apps, to the Bistro and the occasional treat of the tasting room.

Well, the tasting room was my first meal there, and I was impressed at how you and your staff manage to present delicious meals which are painstakingly prepared and presented  with impeccable timing and grace.
Could you elaborate a bit on what it takes to orchestrate meals in your tasting room? How many prep/ sous chefs, how many servers etc. How do you get it to come together? Regarding staff training: Does your staff do wine and food tastings to be able to advise guests ?
Thank you and know that you're hard work and dedication is appreciated.
Cheers,

An anti-pratt

We have a total of eighty seats in the restaurant, we have 52 full time employees. During a given service we have 11 Chefs on the line, 2 Expediters, 2 Bartenders, 10 Waiters, a food Runner, a glass and silver polisher, 2 Managers and 3 Hosts, for a total of 32 employees needed to operate.
For the most part the ship runs like a well oiled machine, there are of course hicups, managing 32 employees and 80 guests at one time is insane when you think about it but it keeps me looking young.

We do a lot of training at the beginning when an employee is first hired, about two full weeks and then we have two staff meetings every day to discuss food and wine and service issues. We all taste food when we bring on new dishes and aside from Todd doing wine classes we are often visited by winemakers which is very educational.


BTW.... The questions so far have been great, I have enjoyed reflecting. Thank you all.
Owner and Chef

Restaurant Eve
110 S. Pitt St.
Alexandria, VA 22314

(703) 706-0450

#19 shogun

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Posted 03 August 2005 - 01:12 PM

I would tell myself to stick it out in college studying computer programming, much less work, much more money, much less pratts telling me that what I put my heart and soul into 16 hours a day six days a week is "nothing special", "no wow factor".

Duely noted, but I'm about ready to jump the CS ship and go to culinary school. Probably should have taken the hint and done so two years ago. Especially on days like today... :P
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I'll have the beef car-patchio to start, and the braised lamb shank...........and a Yorkie. Buttered.

#20 Tweaked

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Posted 03 August 2005 - 02:40 PM

wow, I'm kind of shocked that Restaurant Eve has 52 full time employees...That's just amazing to me! I'd guess maybe 25-30 people

I completely understand if you don't want to get into financial specifics on an internet chat board (even percentages would be ok), so feel free to ignore this question, but what sort of cost structure does an upscale restaurant like Eve have. I think it would be eye opening for us outside the industry to get a grasp on what goes into running and funding a restaurant at Eve's level.

rent, labor, food costs, taxes, equipment/table service (glasses, knives forks etc.)

Thanks

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#21 Cathal Armstrong

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Posted 03 August 2005 - 04:14 PM

wow, I'm kind of shocked that Restaurant Eve has 52 full time employees...That's just amazing to me!  I'd guess maybe 25-30 people

I completely understand if you don't want to get into financial specifics on an internet chat board (even percentages would be ok), so feel free to ignore this question, but what sort of cost structure does an upscale restaurant like Eve have.  I think it would be eye opening for us outside the industry to get a grasp on what goes into running and funding a restaurant at Eve's level.

rent, labor, food costs, taxes, equipment/table service (glasses, knives forks etc.)

Thanks


Labor cost is about 30% of gross, cost of goods is about 30% of gross, rent is about 5% of gross. So of the 35% that's left we pay china, glass, silver, linen, gas, electricity, water, trash removal, linen, insurance, public relations/advertising, repairs and maintenance, payroll taxes, credit card processing fees, flowers, interest on our bank loan, permits and licences etc., etc., etc.

If we try really hard and don't have any surprises, like the toilet overflowing on Friday night causing us to call an emergency plumber at $1500, we might hit around 5 or 6% net. Bear that in mind, when your bill is $600 for 4 people usually a restaurant of our calibre will net $30.00-$40.00.
Owner and Chef

Restaurant Eve
110 S. Pitt St.
Alexandria, VA 22314

(703) 706-0450

#22 Pete

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Posted 03 August 2005 - 05:09 PM

Chef,

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. My wife and I enjoyed a fantastic meal in the tasting room 2 weeks ago to celebrate our 2 year wedding anniversary. All of the dishes were terrific, but the stand-out was the Gnocchi with Oven Dried Tomatoes and Spring Arugula. We were raving about the gnocchi to our waitress, who agreed and commented “who would have guessed that an Irishman can make such darn-good gnocchi". :P So my question to you is, how does an Irishman make such darn-good gnocchi?

Edited by Pete, 03 August 2005 - 05:11 PM.

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#23 Cathal Armstrong

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Posted 03 August 2005 - 08:25 PM

Chef,

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. My wife and I enjoyed a fantastic meal in the tasting room 2 weeks ago to celebrate our 2 year wedding anniversary. All of the dishes were terrific, but the stand-out was the Gnocchi with Oven Dried Tomatoes and Spring Arugula. We were raving about the gnocchi to our waitress, who agreed and commented “who would have guessed that an Irishman can make such darn-good gnocchi".  :P   So my question to you is, how does an Irishman make such darn-good gnocchi?


Irishmen are certainly masters of potatoes if nothing else. Seriously though there are only a couple of important things to worry about when making gnocchi, first is the potatoes you use, they should be fresh potatoes, you can tell, if the potato is not very firm it is old. Let them stand at room temperature for 24 hours, this allows some of the sugar to convert to starch giving you the right balance between soapy and floury mash. Don't overwork the dough, you will expand the gluten molecules in the flour and make your gnocchi tough. Remember you are poaching the dumplings, not boiling them, your poaching liquid should be gently simmering and when the dumplings rise to the top they are cooked, either serve them or arrest the cooking process.
It's that simple.
Owner and Chef

Restaurant Eve
110 S. Pitt St.
Alexandria, VA 22314

(703) 706-0450

#24 shogun

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Posted 03 August 2005 - 08:34 PM

Fourty bucks??

Edited by shogun, 03 August 2005 - 09:09 PM.

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#25 laniloa

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Posted 03 August 2005 - 08:36 PM

Given the overloaded schedule you already described I hesitate to ask, but what the hell. Any chance you might offer cooking classes from time to time? Your answers here have been very descriptive...definitely painting great mental pictures and I can't help but think you would be a wonderful teacher.

#26 Cathal Armstrong

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Posted 03 August 2005 - 09:02 PM

Forrty bucks??

Want to invest in the next venture??
Owner and Chef

Restaurant Eve
110 S. Pitt St.
Alexandria, VA 22314

(703) 706-0450

#27 Cathal Armstrong

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Posted 03 August 2005 - 09:06 PM

Given the overloaded schedule you already described I hesitate to ask, but what the hell.  Any chance you might offer cooking classes from time to time?  Your answers here have been very descriptive...definitely painting great mental pictures and I can't help but think you would be a wonderful teacher.


I have been asked to do cooking classes and I usually hesitate because our small kitchen is not really designed to host guests. I do really enjoy teaching, I think it is probably one of the greatest senses of empowerment a human can have, to be able to pass on your knowledge and experience.
We will factor that a little more carefully into the next location, but in the meantime this is America and for the right price anything can be negotiated.
Owner and Chef

Restaurant Eve
110 S. Pitt St.
Alexandria, VA 22314

(703) 706-0450

#28 DonRocks

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Posted 03 August 2005 - 09:20 PM

Next....something for Eamonn. But Eve will always have my undivided attention.

...

We will factor that a little more carefully into the next location

Cathal,

Are you hinting at a newsworthy story here?

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#29 Tweaked

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Posted 04 August 2005 - 08:53 AM

Chef, looking at your bio, you have been working in the DC area for almost 15 years, can you give us an insiders perspective of the changes you have noticed in DC dining over that time...any real surprises, disappointments, and what do you think is needed to take DC to the next level as a well respected restaurant city?

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#30 Cathal Armstrong

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Posted 04 August 2005 - 11:34 AM

Chef, looking at your bio, you have been working in the DC area for almost 15 years, can you give us an insiders perspective of the changes you have noticed in DC dining over that time...any real surprises, disappointments, and what do you think is needed to take DC to the next level as a well respected restaurant city?



The dining scene in DC has changed so drastically in the past ten years or so. When I started in fine dining here you could count on both hands the places that were worth eating in. Some of those restaurants are still around and it's interesting to see how some of them have been able to change to keep up with current trends and some have clearly not. There still seems to be some interest in nostalgia though, it surprises me how some restaurants from those days are still so highly regarded. (Don't ask I wont mention any names)
I have seen quite the expansion in the industry locally recently though, and I must say I was truly surprised by Marion Burrows recent article in the New York times. I recently ate at some of New Yorks highest rated restaurants and I can assure you that they don't have anything any better than we do.
A Chef is an interesting person, at one time an artist, a craftsman, a tradesman and an entrepreneur. We continually raise our own expectations of ourselves which is probably why the industry changes so much so rapidly.
Owner and Chef

Restaurant Eve
110 S. Pitt St.
Alexandria, VA 22314

(703) 706-0450

#31 Nadya

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Posted 04 August 2005 - 12:02 PM

Hi Cathal, thanks for visiting!

I am sorry I didn't have a chance to work with you, and I assure you that Legends of Cathal™ are still percolating at Bis. I ate at Eve twice at the bistro and once in the dining room, and think you are doing a fantastic job of making diners feel nourished by food and loved by service and ambience. With Todd's studboltly status, Eve sounds more seductive than ever. Am coming to eat at the bistro on Saturday night and very excited!

To build on the previous question, can you talk a bit about places and people at DC's dining landscape that you consider notable? Who do you like? Who do you not like? What are the fortunate/unfortunate trends that you see around here? If relatives from Ireland was visiting and wanted to see what DC restaurants are all about in the space of one week, what program would you design for them?

Thank you!

Edited by Nadya, 04 August 2005 - 12:03 PM.

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#32 FunnyJohn

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Posted 04 August 2005 - 01:58 PM

It has occurred to me as I review the restaurants that are most enjoyable and that get the most love on this board (including, of course, Eve) that they are chef-owned -- I'm thinking of Eve, Corduroy and Ray's the Steaks. Apart from the obvious reason that ownership imparts additional incentive to succeed, what else do you think accounts for this -- is it the ability to be in total control. Have you ever found that the business end detracts from the creative end of creating a really great restaurant?

Edited by FunnyJohn, 04 August 2005 - 01:59 PM.

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#33 Cathal Armstrong

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Posted 04 August 2005 - 09:35 PM

Hi Cathal, thanks for visiting!

I am sorry I didn't have a chance to work with you, and I assure you that Legends of Cathal™ are still percolating at Bis.  I ate at Eve twice at the bistro and once in the dining room, and think you are doing a fantastic job of making diners feel nourished by food and loved by service and ambience.  With Todd's studboltly status, Eve sounds more seductive than ever. Am coming to eat at the bistro on Saturday night and very excited!

To build on the previous question, can you talk a bit about places and people at DC's dining landscape that you consider notable? Who do you like? Who do you not like? What are the fortunate/unfortunate trends that you see around here? If relatives from Ireland was visiting and wanted to see what DC restaurants are all about in the space of one week, what program would you design for them?

Thank you!


Nadya, thank you for your question,
Most of it I can't really subjectively answer though. Many of the Chefs in this city are dear friends and I would hate to offend any of them by omitting them from a list of people I admire. They are all dedicated, hard working, gentle, caring and passionate people. I respect them all deeply. It has been my great honor to be considered one of their peers for so many years and I often wonder how I got to this position and thank God for my great luck to have such noble friends, truly from my heart....

When my family comes from Ireland they eat at Restaurant Eve as much as they can but to echo my previous comment I am always honored to bring them or suggest to them to visit any of the restaurants of this great city where they are invariably treated like kings because they are related to a knuckle head like me. Go figure.
Owner and Chef

Restaurant Eve
110 S. Pitt St.
Alexandria, VA 22314

(703) 706-0450

#34 Cathal Armstrong

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Posted 04 August 2005 - 10:10 PM

It has occurred to me as I review the restaurants that are most enjoyable and that get the most love on this board (including, of course, Eve) that they are chef-owned -- I'm thinking of Eve, Corduroy and Ray's the Steaks.  Apart from the obvious reason that ownership imparts additional incentive to succeed, what else do you think accounts for this -- is it the ability to be in total control.  Have you ever found that the business end detracts from the creative end of creating a really great restaurant?



The business end doesn't really detract too much from the creative end because we hire people to manage that side and you manage it when you can because you have to. As I mentioned earlier the margins are so tight that you must do whatever is nessecary to maintain them.
Probably a lot of the best restaurants are chef owned because we are ingrained with a great sense of dicipline from the first days of our apprentiships, we are taught about thrift, thrift, thrift. Next comes cleanliness, after I dropped out from computer programming in college I tried culinary school for about 3 days, on the third day when we spent the third hour reciting "a clean kitchen is a happy kitchen" I decided to drop that one too. I guess ultimately you hit the nail on the head "ownership imparts additional incentive to succeed"
Owner and Chef

Restaurant Eve
110 S. Pitt St.
Alexandria, VA 22314

(703) 706-0450

#35 starfish

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Posted 05 August 2005 - 07:59 AM

chef,
i will add my voice to the chorus of thank you’s for taking the time to participate in this chat.

the shallow talent pool of staff for the restaurant business in this city is a frequent refrain that is most loudly echoed by senior managers and chefs, and the general dining public as well. my question is three fold.
1. would you agree with the premise that this is a particularly difficult city in which to find qualified and passionate staff?
2. what tools do you use to source candidates, and besides visceral instinct by what measurements do you evaluate perspective employees?
3. would you agree with the concept of hiring more for character than qualification, as the later can be taught and the former must be innate?

again, i thank you for your time.

danny boylen

Owner - Cogito Ergo Sauté, a personal chef service


#36 Cathal Armstrong

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Posted 05 August 2005 - 12:01 PM

chef,
i will add my voice to the chorus of thank you’s for taking the time to participate in this chat.

the shallow talent pool of staff for the restaurant business in this city is a frequent refrain that is most loudly echoed by senior managers and chefs, and the general dining public as well.  my question is three fold.
1. would you agree with the premise that this is a particularly difficult city in which to find qualified and passionate staff?
2. what tools do you use to source candidates, and besides visceral instinct by what measurements do you evaluate perspective employees?
3. would you agree with the concept of hiring more for character than qualification, as the later can be taught and the former must be innate?

again, i thank you for your time.


I agree, it's amazing how few applicants we get, probably less than 10 since we opened over a year ago. I think this is one of if not the greatest challenge to our industry. You would think that the most reviewed and respected kitchens would be the most popular with new candidates but I have seen no evidence of that. I don't know why, maybe kids just don't want to work anymore. Besides there's much more money in hotel kitchens.

The culinary schools for the most part tend to do a diservice to both the students and the industry. Almost every applicant I have interviewed from the CIA is convinced that they are chefs, worthy of respect and absurd salaries, they should be clear when they graduate, as in every other trade, that they have a further apprenticeship to complete( about 4 years) before the can consider using that title. Other smaller schools are filled with what we call "career switchers". Generally lost in a midlife crisis they decide to pursue a career in our industry, which seems great while at school but.....wait till you get to a real kitchen, thats when they all realise what a mistake they have made, it's hot, you get burned, you are on your feet 12-16 hours, non stop, no break, no time to eat, want a break...there might be time for a smoke at 5.29pm right before we lift off for dinner service if you have your station set, not to mention the manic, maniac screeming at you all day long. That's when they come to me and say "Chef I'm terribly sorry to have wasted your time and I know it's 4 o'clock on Saturday right before the busiest shift of the week, but I quit, I'm going back to my old job" I could go on and on....

I have been very fortunate that one by one brilliant people, dedicated to thier careers came to me before we opened and most of them are still here. My hat's off to them, I push them hard, and pay them terribly but their passion is unparalleled.


Chef De Partie Poissionier: Nathan Hatfield.
Chef De Partie Rotisseur: Jason Lewis
Chef De Partie Entrementier: Shannon Overmiller
Chef De Partie Entrementier: Rich Gunter
Chef De Partie Tournant: Dan Fisher
Chef De Partie Garde Manger: John Parsons
Chef De Partie Garde Manger: Angelica Lopez
Chef De Partie Poissioner AM: Carmen Ragin
Chef De Patisserie: Hannah Leake
Butcher: Jose Fuentes(the hardest working man in show business)


And Last the man that makes it all happen CHEF DE CUISINE: NATHAN BEAUCHAMP.


We have tried some classified advertising, City Paper and Craigs List which seem to be somewhat effective for front of house staff, but threes ads have, to date yielded, zero applicants for the kitchen. Odd.. The few that we get come from word of mouth.


We difinitely hire for character, never for skill, life's way to short to work with pricks. Everyone does a stage, I feed them and if the staff likes them they get hired, if not forget about it.
Owner and Chef

Restaurant Eve
110 S. Pitt St.
Alexandria, VA 22314

(703) 706-0450

#37 JPW

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Posted 05 August 2005 - 12:17 PM

Chef De Partie Poissionier: Nathan Hatfield.
Chef De Partie Rotisseur: Jason Lewis
Chef De Partie Entrementier: Shannon Overmiller
Chef De Partie Entrementier: Rich Gunter
Chef De Partie Tournant: Dan Fisher
Chef De Partie Garde Manger: John Parsons
Chef De Partie Garde Manger: Angelica Lopez
Chef De Partie Poissioner AM: Carmen Ragin
Chef De Patisserie: Hannah Leake
Butcher: Jose Fuentes(the hardest working man in show business)
And Last the man that makes it all happen CHEF DE CUISINE: NATHAN BEAUCHAMP.

Chef,
All right, I picked off most of these:
Poissonier -- Fish
Rotisseur -- Meat
Garde Manger -- Salad/Garnish
Patisserie -- Pastry

But Entrementier and Tournant?

Joe
skewing old


#38 Jacques Gastreaux

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Posted 05 August 2005 - 12:42 PM

Entrementier Duties: Preparation of vegetable garnishes, pastas,
classical potatoes, and hot appetizers.

Tournant
The Waldorf=Astoria is currently looking for experienced culinary professionals to join our world class team. Opportunities are available in our Banquet and Room Service kitchens. The Tournant prepares hot or cold food items in accordance with recipes and standards while maintaining a neat and clean work environment in a safe, accident free manner.
ESSENTIAL FUNCTIONS
Prepare all food items according to recipes and correct handling procedures. Maintain the highest quality and appearance of all foods sent from the kitchen and make sure plates/buffet presentations are clean and appetizing.
Maintains proper pars of production and mise en place. Label and date all foods.
Maintain clean and orderly refrigerators and work areas. Make sure all work areas are properly cleaned at the end of the shift and at the end of the evening.
SUPPORTIVE FUNCTIONS

Perform various cook's duties as assigned by supervisor or manager.
Ability to put out parties without supervision.
SPECIFIC JOB KNOWLEDGE, SKILL AND ABILITY

Knowledge of all cooking methods including broil, saute, grill, soups, sauces and general food prep; maintaining proper cooking and food storage temperatures; sanitation.
EDUCATION

At least two (2) year college (associate) degree in culinary arts or work experience equivalent required.
EXPERIENCE

Excellent working knowledge of all stations in the kitchen. Minimum three (3) years cooking in a classical French oriented kitchen. Minimum one (1) year experience as a Tournant in a classical French oriented kitchen.
Please unload all firearms and remove ski masks before entering establishment.

#39 JPW

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Posted 05 August 2005 - 01:12 PM

So,
Entremetier = hot apps and starches
Tournant = Cover whoever is off that night and out getting loaded. :P

Joe
skewing old


#40 Mark Slater

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Posted 05 August 2005 - 01:28 PM

The Chef Tournant is called a Round Cook in English. The entremetier prepares the accompaniments to the dishes cooked by the possonier and grillardin.

Manager, Bastille 1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria, VA

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http://www.bastillerestaurant.com


#41 Meshe at Eve

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Posted 05 August 2005 - 01:42 PM

Honey...
You are so right..This board is right on....Everyone posts the most interesting questions!
unlike...another that is so full of crap!..anyway..
Just wanted to say..Reading your answers remind me of why I married you.
Your staff is smiling.

..oh..can you fix the table at 31?

Love, your wife and admirer. :P
Meshelle Armstrong

Co-owner

Restaurant Eve

110 S. Pitt St.
Alexandria, VA 22314

(703) 706-0450

#42 brr

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Posted 05 August 2005 - 01:52 PM

Everyone posts the most interesting questions!

did someone say interesting questions?? :wub:

Boxers or briefs?
Manchester United or Liverpool or.....?
Coke or Pepsi?
Chocolate Chip or Oatmeal Raisin?
Guinness or Smithwicks?

Sorry, its Friday afternoon and I'm a little stir crazy. :P

Thanks again Cathal (and the various questioners). Your answers have been great, and a real insight into the inner workings of a top class restaurant, and your passion for food.

edit: and with that, I'm a grouper - yay!

Edited by brr, 05 August 2005 - 01:53 PM.


#43 Jacques Gastreaux

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Posted 05 August 2005 - 02:02 PM

I hope you don't mind if I ask a second question (if you do, feel free to ignore it).

But anyway, I am so waiting for autumn and the reappearance of game dishes on your menu. You have a reputation with regard to your preparation of game and it seems you dip into a special well of creativity in that area. Afterall, not just anybody gets called upon to prepare a game dinner for the President. How do you come by this penchant and what game animals in particular do you most enjoy working with?

[3 weeks and counting 'till the dove opener]
Please unload all firearms and remove ski masks before entering establishment.

#44 Halloween

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Posted 05 August 2005 - 10:09 PM

Honey...
You are so right..This board is right on....Everyone posts the most interesting questions!
unlike...another that is so full of crap!..anyway..
Just wanted to say..Reading your answers remind me of why I married you.
Your staff is smiling.

..oh..can you fix the table at 31?

Love, your wife and admirer. :P

Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful!
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Your capacity for euphemistic kinkiness ... um, very nice. Dame Edna

#45 Cathal Armstrong

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Posted 05 August 2005 - 10:45 PM

I hope you don't mind if I ask a second question (if you do, feel free to ignore it).

But anyway, I am so waiting for autumn and the reappearance of game dishes on your menu.  You have a reputation with regard to your preparation of game and it seems you dip into a special well of creativity in that area.  Afterall, not just anybody gets called upon to prepare a game dinner for the President.  How do you come by this penchant and what game animals in particular do you most enjoy working with?

[3 weeks and counting 'till the dove opener]


First you are all welcome to ask 20, 30, 40 questions, whatever.
A lot of the proteins we use we consider vessels to carry flavors that we are excited by at a particuar time, for example, when asparagus comes in season what we look for is ingredients to accentuate the asparagus, not detract from or overwhelm. Typically our menus are driven by a single or a couple of ingredients that are particularily good in this region, rockfish, softshells, corn, shad roe etc. But when the big game season begins in September we are inundated with exciting products. I think one of the advantages of game meats is that they are so versatile. They work really well with fruits and berries, nuts, dried fruit and also with completely savory ingredients, vinegars, onions, for example. That makes it easier to be inspired.
Mostly that's how we write menus, we find one or two ingredients that entice us and we build, layer upon layer from there.
My favorite game is Venison, although I love to cook many others, it is the most versatile. It is just beefy enough and just livery enough to be easily complimented by almost anything.
Owner and Chef

Restaurant Eve
110 S. Pitt St.
Alexandria, VA 22314

(703) 706-0450

#46 Cathal Armstrong

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Posted 06 August 2005 - 01:41 PM

did someone say interesting questions??  :wub:

Boxers or briefs?
Manchester United or Liverpool or.....?
Coke or Pepsi?
Chocolate Chip or Oatmeal Raisin?
Guinness or Smithwicks?

Sorry, its Friday afternoon and I'm a little stir crazy.  :P

Thanks again Cathal (and the various questioners). Your answers have been great, and a real insight into the inner workings of a top class restaurant, and your passion for food.

edit: and with that, I'm a grouper - yay!


I didn't realise these were questions you wanted answered until my wife said so.
Very amusing questions, or is it my answers that will amuse.....

1: The best thing since sliced bread....boxer briefs, need I say more, you guys know what I mean.

2: United or Liverpool depends on how many paddys are playing for me, I personally prefer Dublin in Gaelic Football and Killkenny in Hurling.

3: Coke. Definitely not diet, yuch.

4: I'm much in favor of oatmeal raisin, but only if it's not laden with cinnamon, remember it's a spice not a flavoring.

5: Smithwicks in America but little beats a Guinness in Dublin...like angels pissin' on my tongue.
Owner and Chef

Restaurant Eve
110 S. Pitt St.
Alexandria, VA 22314

(703) 706-0450

#47 goldenticket

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Posted 06 August 2005 - 01:56 PM

Chef - Thank you for bringing such wonderful food, wine, drink, and ambience to Old Town!

As both you and your wife are so involved in the operation of Restaurant Eve, how do you balance your family life?
I would think it's challenging, and I'm sure difficult at times, to maintain a reasonable quality of life, particularly given the fact that you have two young children.

Thanks again for taking the time to do this - it's very interesting and much appreciated.
It's also really nice to see you supporting our local merchants and farmers. You and I were in Cheesetique at the same time one afternoon - your order was just a wee bit bigger than mine :P

Jackie B.

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#48 DonRocks

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Posted 08 August 2005 - 12:09 PM

Cathal, when I was in a few days ago, we discussed Mark Furstenberg of Breadline, and you lavished him with the highest of praise.

Likewise, Jill Erber of Cheesetique.

Being a petulant Irishman who has surely downed many a bastible cake, and having come from a fine cheese program at Bistro Bis, what are your thoughts on Breadline and Cheesetique, and on the local bread-and-cheese situation in general?

Cheers,
Rocks.

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#49 Cathal Armstrong

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Posted 09 August 2005 - 11:42 AM

Chef - Thank you for bringing such wonderful food, wine, drink, and ambience to Old Town!

As both you and your wife are so involved in the operation of Restaurant Eve, how do you balance your family life?
I would think it's challenging, and I'm sure difficult at times, to maintain a reasonable quality of life, particularly given the fact that you have two young children.

Thanks again for taking the time to do this - it's very interesting and much appreciated.
It's also really nice to see you supporting our local merchants and farmers. You and I were in Cheesetique at the same time one afternoon - your order was just a wee bit bigger than mine  :P


Summer months are much better than the rest of the year, no school means not having to be up so early. A normal day starts at 7am. Get Eve up for school(I pick her up and put her in the shower, otherwise the former worst sleeper in the world would never be awake) Meshelle makes breakfast for Eve and Eamonn and lunch for Eve for the days she doesn't like what's on the menu at school. Then it's off to school. I get ready for work and hit the farmers market on my way in, usually getting to the restaurant at around 9.30. Meshelle stays at home till the babysitter arrives. She usually gets to work around 11. After lunch I head out and pick Eve from school, drop her off and rush back to the restaurant. Once a week I go for ice cream and cheese from Del Ray Dreamery and Cheesetique. We are usually home by 1am. Pick Eamonn up to make him pee(he's almost trained) and hit the hay.
The little time spent with them in the morning is tough but precious.
Sunday is family day(the restaurant is closed) we very, very rarely allow interuptions on this day and try to do fun stuff with the kids.
Owner and Chef

Restaurant Eve
110 S. Pitt St.
Alexandria, VA 22314

(703) 706-0450

#50 Cathal Armstrong

Cathal Armstrong

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Posted 09 August 2005 - 11:56 AM

Cathal, when I was in a few days ago, we discussed Mark Furstenberg of Breadline, and you lavished him with the highest of praise.

Likewise, Jill Erber of Cheesetique.

Being a petulant Irishman who has surely downed many a bastible cake, and having come from a fine cheese program at Bistro Bis, what are your thoughts on Breadline and Cheesetique, and on the local bread-and-cheese situation in general?

Cheers,
Rocks.


Most chefs agree that Mark Furstenberg is the best baker in the country. I love his artisanal, rustic style. His bread reminds me of living in France. I was delighted to see that he was nominated for a James Beard award last year. Not only is he a great baker he runs a great restaurant, teaches at the Culinary Institute of America and consults for many highly regarded restaurants. He is a crusty old genius. I have the highest regard for him.

I love going to Cheesetique to buy my cheese(despite the fact that it takes much more time and costs much more) because I can personally hand select the cheeses I want. I have bought from wholesale companies in the past and I have to say that it is worth the effort to purchase from someone who understands how to handle cheese and sells only quality. We have developed a great relationship and Jill comes to the restaurant to do classes with my waitstaff. It's astounding how much cheese we sell and I can't believe that it took this long for a real chees shop to open in this area. Even the often assumed to be culturally barren Dublin has had 2 similar stores for years.

The only way is up from here.
Owner and Chef

Restaurant Eve
110 S. Pitt St.
Alexandria, VA 22314

(703) 706-0450




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