New Mockingbird Hill chef inherits a tiny kitchen with big ideas

Coffee isn't the only newcomer at Derek Brown's Mockingbird Hill in Shaw.

Scott Ryan steps up to the challenge of cooking in Mockingbird Hill's microscopic kitchen. (Courtesy of Derek Brown)
Scott Ryan steps up to the challenge of cooking in Mockingbird Hill's microscopic kitchen. (Courtesy of Derek Brown)

Nearly a year after its opening, the sherry and ham bar now has a full-time chef to create a menu that pairs with Mockingbird Hill's extensive line of fortified Spanish wines. Boston chef Scott Ryan assumes kitchen duties from Julien Shapiro, who was handling menus for all three of Brown's properties in Shaw, including Eat the Rich and Southern Efficiency. (Shapiro can now focus all his attention on the other two restaurants, which have a separate kitchen.)

"We thought maybe he could do it between the three, but it wasn't really possible, at least the way Julien does it," Brown says. "He's extremely hands-on. It wasn't so much his failure to do it as maybe our imagination at the beginning was too great."

Ryan, a cook with extensive history at Boston-area restaurants, including Barbara Lynch's No. 9 Park, was not scared off by Mockingbird Hill's microscopic kitchen, which has little more than a toaster oven, a meat slicer and a couple of portable induction burners.

"Scott was one of the first guys just to be like, 'No problem, I get it,'" says Brown. "There's so many little places [in Spain] that the most they have is a toaster oven, and they still produce high-quality food."

Ryan started at Mockingbird Hill this weekend to familiarize himself with the kitchen and the customers. The new chef and Brown were planning to talk Monday about where to take the food. Like the bar's previous menus — they mixed small plates such as octopus and chorizo with snacks such as Virginia peanuts — Ryan's version will favor the cuisines of Spain, but not be bound by them.

The primary piece of equipment in Mockingbird HIll's kitchen is a tiny toaster oven. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
The primary piece of equipment in Mockingbird Hill's kitchen is a tiny toaster oven. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

"As we said from the beginning, we want to do Spanish-influenced food, but I'd rather deal with local products," Brown says. "What I want is something great."

Ryan has a particular fondness for Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking. "He seems to be very open about doing a lot of stuff," says Brown, including perhaps moving the focus from northern to southern Spain.

"Honestly, the south of Spain, that's a huge influence about anywhere," Brown says. "Most people have become so accustomed to the north of Spain and what they offer. 'Oh, do you have pintxos?' They have a whole vocabulary around the north of Spain. They have yet to really understand the southern Spanish cooking."

Ryan is expected to slowly roll out his own food, beginning this week. He will even get a chance to create a lunch menu for Mockingbird Hill, which will start offering the mid-day meal on Wednesday.

Mockingbird Hill, 1843 Seventh St. NW. Coffee bar hours: daily, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sherry bar hours: Sunday-Monday, 5 to 11:30 p.m.; Tuesday-Thursday, 5 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.; and Friday-Saturday, 5 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.

Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires ingesting more calories than a draft horse.
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