Behind every great Washington-area chef is a great tale: a childhood memory, a professional U-turn, a reality-TV competition, an unswerving love for the community. That’s evident in Beth Kanter’s “Washington, DC Chef’s Table” ($25, Lyons Press), a new, photo-rich cookbook that shares histories, personal stories and recipes from more than 50 local chefs. It’s no tourist guidebook; Kanter is a longtime Washingtonian, so she focused on locally beloved dishes such as Good Stuff Eatery’s Prez Obama burger and the CapMac food truck’s Cheez-It-topped mac and cheese. With photographer Emily Pearl Goodstein (another local), Kanter shares the secrets behind some of the city’s most iconic dishes and dining destinations.
What was your goal with this book?
Right before I started “Washington, DC Chef’s Table,” I had just finished my second book, “Food Lovers’ Guide to Washington, D.C.” I had uncovered all these interesting stories that went with the food here in D.C. I wanted to give a voice to that personal aspect. I also really wanted to show the whole breadth of the food experience in the city.
One nontraditional food source in the book is Miriam’s Kitchen [a nonprofit that provides meals and services for the homeless].
I felt I couldn’t write either of these books about food and not include something about the fact that there are people who are hungry in this city. And the act of feeding someone should be remembered when you’re looking at a city’s food culture. Also, Miriam’s Kitchen employs phenomenal chefs and always has interesting, well-known chefs popping in to help. They put so much heart and soul into the food that they cook.
In terms of bakeries, you decided to feature Baked and Wired … but not Georgetown Cupcake, huh?
Georgetown Cupcake just came out with a wonderful cookbook, so I think they already have a good platform for their recipes. And Baked and Wired’s cream peach pie [the recipe featured in the book] is beautiful, a wonderful rustic-style pie.
What were some of the chefs’ personal stories that resonated with you?
The last interview and photo shoot we did for the book was at Beau Thai. The restaurant is painted this pretty purple color, and on the walls are these huge black-and-white photos on canvases of [chef Aschara Vigsittaboot’s] house where she grew up in Thailand and the kitchen where she learned to cook. The chef was telling me this story while standing under this picture of her kitchen. It seemed to bring the whole process home.
I also loved speaking to Kaz [chef Kazuhiro Okochi] at Kaz Sushi Bistro. When he was in third grade, there were recipes on the back of the menu he brought home from his school cafeteria. He decided to make a flan from it for his mother for her birthday.
When friends or family ask you for dining recommendations, what’s your go-to?
If you’re going to celebrate something, Blue Duck Tavern, to me, never disappoints. I love that they grow some of the ingredients outside on their little city patio.
The Source is also a great place to celebrate something. Estadio is always wonderful and fun. And H Street NE is a fantastic place to explore now.
Recipe: Yum Beef Salad
From Beau Thai, 1700 New Jersey Ave. NW; 202-536-5636.
1 pound flank steak
2 cups soy sauce
2 cups vegetable oil
6 cherry tomatoes sliced in half
1 cucumber, peeled, sliced in half, lengthwise, and then sliced into 1⁄4-inch slivers
2 medium shallots, sliced
1⁄2 medium white onion, sliced into 1⁄4-inch pieces
1 small carrot, peeled and julienned
2 tablespoons nam prik pao (Thai chili paste in oil — sometimes called Thai chili jam — available at Asian markets and online)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
4 tablespoons lime juice
1⁄2 tablespoon sugar
Garnish of green onion, sliced, and cilantro
Makes six servings.
Marinate the flank steak for at least two hours before cooking it by placing the steak in a baking dish, pouring the soy sauce and vegetable oil over it, and placing it in the refrigerator. After the steak has marinated, grill the meat to the desired temperature (at Beau Thai, the dish is served medium-rare) and slice into bite-size pieces.
Mix the vegetables together with the flank steak.
To make the dressing, combine the nam prik pao, fish sauce, lime juice and sugar. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and the meat and toss.
Garnish with green onion and cilantro.