It all started innocently enough in July when 1789 chef Daniel Giusti took a two-week vacation to stage at Noma, the Copenhagen destination that is the reigning best restaurant in the world. Giusti apparently didn’t do much more than sweep the floors and work in the prep kitchen at the cutting-edge Scandanavian restaurant, but he saw enough and experienced enough to want a job there.
And Noma owner Rene Redzepi’s team indicated there just might be one for him — if Giusti makes his way to Denmark first. Which was all Giusti needed to hear to start packing his bags.
“It was clearly a shock,”says Maureen Hirsch, director of marketing for Clyde’s Restaurant Group, which owns the Georgetown fine-dining spot. “But he just really wants to learn.”
Giusti’s last day at 1789 will be Sunday, Aug. 28, and the Clyde’s group is currently looking for a replacement to take over the 1789 kitchen. In the interim, 1789 alum Brian Stickel will assume Giusti’s job until a new executive chef is hired and Stickel can helm Clyde’s next big project, The Hamilton, a massive 800-seat restaurant and live music venue in the former Borders book store space at 14th and F streets NW.
Giusti says he’s known for awhile that he wanted to relocate and continue his culinary education. Aside fron Noma, he also paid a visit to Alinea, chef Grant Achatz ’s modernist playhouse in Chicago. “It was going to be one of the two,” Giusti notes, “and I liked Noma better.”
Of course, Noma had a small advantage, too: Its current head chef, Matthew Orlando, worked at Aureole at the same time Giusti did his externship from the Culinary Institute of America. Orlando couldn’t make any promises to give Giusti a full-time job, but it didn’t matter to the 1789 chef. Giusti says he just wants to spend time in Noma’s kitchen, staffed with more than 50 people, and learn from the team’s meticulous, almost obsessive approach to cooking, which includes foraging for ingredients in the surrounding forests.
“I definitely got a little taste of that level,” Giusti says. “That’s what I want to be a part of.”
Giusti has already rented an apartment close to Noma, where he, his long-time girlfriend and their dog will move in September. He must secure a work permit in Denmark if he wants to see a real paycheck. “They can’t really offer me anything,” Giusti says, “until I can legally work there.”
Whether he gets paid or not, Giusti says he plans to stay in Copenhagen at least a year. His goal is to open his own high-flying, modernist restaurant one day, perhaps even in Washington. “This is the city I plan to come back to,” he says. “But hopefully not soon.”
Giusti certainly has had a good run with the Clyde’s group. The New Jersey native started as a prep cook at Clyde’s of Georgetown when he was only 15. He then worked at other Clyde’s properties, including Old Ebbitt Grill, Clyde’s of Gallery Place and even at 1789 as a sous chef, before assuming the executive chef role at 1789 in June 2008. He was only 24 at the time.
Critics have generally liked Giusti’s work at 1789. The Post’s Tom Sietsema gave the restaurant 2 1/2 stars in his January 2009 review, noting that Giusti’s menu loosened up after playing it safe initally. Giusti’s efforts have also earned him a Rammy Award nomination in 2009 for rising culinary star of the year and another in 2010 for chef of the year .