“He can do his thing and I can do mine, but we’re pretty much back-to-back,” says Chedister, 55.
Stewart begins to think aloud as olive oil shimmers in a wide, hot pan on a recent Tuesday morning. His assessment, on surveying ingredients for a saute of okra and corn (with a splash of vermouth), snapper fillets to be paired with pink-fleshed, par-cooked potatoes (with vermouth) and a gratin of summer vegetables just out of the oven: “We’re going to have a lot of food. Mind if I call a few people?”
Sooner than you can say Savigny-les-Beaune La Dominode, a trio of his pals materializes. Steven Bongardt, a neighbor to the left, happens to be off for the day and has been a frequent recipient of Stewart-Chedister largess. “He makes it look so easy,” Bongardt says. “My wife and I could never make soft-shell crabs the way Rob does.”
Dan Eichers is the appreciative stay-at-home-dad and neighbor to their right: “My 4-year-old loves to help over here in the kitchen.”
Rich Hooker was between shifts as the head banquet bartender at the Hay-Adams downtown. He has known Stewart since their fraternity days at William and Mary circa 1973. “Guys back then had hot plates in their dorm rooms or ate in the school cafeteria or delis around town,” he says. “Rob found the frat house had a kitchen and invited friends. He made food that covered the plate — you know, guys like that. He made roast chicken and Rice-A-Roni and a vegetable.
“A dinner at Rob and Lisa’s is usually impromptu,” Hooker says. “It’s a great meal with great wine to match.”
To accommodate their usual parties of eight, Stewart and Chedister hit upon a strategy that owners of small houses turn to at the holidays. The dining room table is in the living room; a couch and chairs make the dining room space quite cozy. “In the winter, I like to cook in the fireplace,” so it seemed to make sense, he says. The permanent arrangement allows Stewart to talk with guests while he prepares the meal.
Over the years, the couple have developed a set of requirements for entertaining:
1. No leafy green salads. (“We fix salads for ourselves for lunch. We like to put more effort into a first course.”)
2. Nice flowers.
3. Low lighting or candles.
4. In summer, a cold first course (wax beans with feta and red onion vinaigrette; chilled pea soup).
5. A warm first course in spring, fall and winter (Taiwanese-packed snails with bits of ham; an onion tart).
6. A beautifully set table.
7. Bottled water.
8. The right mix of people; very important in the Washington area.
9. Something that can be made in advance, whether it’s the first course, main course or dessert.
10. A memorable dessert to finish.
Nos. 1 through 9, especially No. 8, are in play even at this last-minute gathering. Stewart’s dishes and paired wines are consumed amid pleasant conversation, historical musings and memories of a time when folks ate a more substantial meal in the middle of the day.
“And just think,” Hooker says. “All this magic takes place in a kitchen the size of a phone booth.”
Southern French Chicken
Gratin of Summer Vegetables
Southern Saute of Okra, Corn, Onion and Herbs
Fish in Wine Sauce With Potatoes
Got a question about cooking with wine? Stewart, who can be reached through dcwineclass.com, will join today’s Free Range chat Wednesday at noon: live.washingtonpost.com.