Blue Duck Tavern adds pastry chef Naomi Gallego to its new menu

Listening to Sebastien Archambault talk up his latest menu, I’m tempted to cancel tonight’s reservation and book at Blue Duck Tavern instead.

One reason: Quail roasted in a wood-fired oven and served with a corn bread pudding, enriched with chopped livers and gilded with summer truffles. Another lure is seared diver scallops paired with pork belly, a Corsican-inspired main course made colorful and kicky with baby peppers and ravigote, the sharp French herb sauce. Does watermelon go with lardo? I can’t wait to taste the chef’s salad -- one of more than a dozen new dishes -- that combines the two at the Blue Duck Tavern.

But the sweetest change in the kitchen at the Park Hyatt hotel is the appointment of a new pastry chef. Naomi Gallego, 38, is a veteran who has whipped up desserts for the Four Seasons and the southern-themed Vidalia, and recently left the white-hot Le Diplomate to join Archambault’s team.

(Courtesy of Naomi Gallego)
(Courtesy of Naomi Gallego)

“I met a lot of people for this job,” says her new boss. Over the course of multiple interviews and a tasting, however, “I fell in love with her spirit.” Blue Duck Tavern’s open pastry kitchen is a hive of activity in the morning, and also fragrant with butter and sugar as the day’s work unfolds. Archambault hopes Gallego, who supervises a staff of seven, can re-create the scene at night, and engage with diners as they pass by her finished displays on their way to dinner.

Why would she leave one of the most popular restaurants in town? While Gallego says she departed Le Diplomate on good terms, giving her employer two months' notice, the French bistro theme limited what she could put on the dessert list. Further, “at a hotel, you can do something different every day,” from in-room amenities to wine dinners.

Among the desserts Gallego might swap out is the one that has made Blue Duck Tavern a dessert destination: the outsized apple pie that accounts for between 20 and 30 sales a day. Fans should know that the attraction won’t go away until after winter and only when she says she can answer “yes” to “can I make something that sells better?”

@tomsietsema

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.
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