AS WASHINGTON becomes increasingly renowned as a restaurant city, more and more individual chefs are gaining recognition. One form of recognition -- one that benefits diners as well as chef -- is a scholarship to the School for American Chefs, Madeleine Kamman's two-week graduate seminars for chefs at Beringer Vineyards in California.
Each year 32 chefs are chosen for these intensive courses which hone their skills and infuse them with new ideas. In its first two years the school chose two or three Washington-area chefs annually. But this year has been a bonanza for Washington. Of the chefs chosen for 1991, five are from the Washington area: David Hagedorn of the West End Cafe, Lisa Joy of the Tabard Inn, Robin Novack of the Carlyle Grand Cafe, Martin Saylor of Henry Africa and Brian Patterson, who lives in Kensington. "VIVE le recession" must be the chorus at the Burrito Brothers. This 1 1/2-year-old Dupont Circle carryout seems to have gotten a big boost from everyone else's economic woes. As upscale restaurants complain, inexpensive restaurants like this one (the average check is $4.20) are booming. Until last July, said partner Eric Sklar, the Burrito Brothers' growth averaged 15 percent a year. Since August, when oil prices rose and recession became a household word, Burrito Brothers' sales have grown 7 to 12 percent a month at this location, while the newer Capitol Hill location's growth is tempered by Congress being on vacation.
IN HERNDON, they are trying to give away food. Great Harvest Bread Co. keeps a breadboard stocked with big slices of bread, and begs customers to take a slab to sample, accompanied by butter. It asks in return for only one favor: "Please take a slice, even if you're not hungry. Save it for later, or feed it to a hungry duck . . . a baker gets moody and rejected if you refuse to take his bread at all."
What gives? Says a sign at the front of the bread company: "The breadboard is our fun. The cash register is our money."
And neither fun nor money alone would be enough of a reason to be in the bread business. "The day we stop making money, or it stops being fun, we quit," says the sign.
As for me, I hope they never stop making giant chocolate chip cookies, since theirs are crisp, chewy, flavorful and a wonderful 75 cents worth of fun.
EASY AS it's been to find Laotian, Cambodian or Afghan food, such familiar cuisines as Swedish and Danish have been largely absent from Washington's restaurants. Now help has come from an unexpected quarter. The Wyndham Bristol hotel has a Danish chef, Tom Christensen, and he is serving Scandinavian foods at the hotel's Sunday brunch buffet. Priced at $18.95 for adults, $8.95 for children, the buffet will include smoked mackerel, Swedish salads and pork loin, along with the usual American fare.
Phyllis C. Richman's restaurant reviews appear Sundays in The Washington Post Magazine.