This post has been updated.
While an opening date still remains a question mark, Eat the Rich has now settled on an opening-day chef. He's Julien Shapiro, the man currently producing artisan charcuterie at Bryan Voltaggio's Range in Chevy Chase Pavilion.
Shapiro has "that love for ingredients and a care for animals, that sense of mission, that made us really click," says Derek Brown, co-owner of the 67-seat Eat the Rich at 1839 Seventh St. NW. "I think he's the man for the job.”
That sense of mission will be important at Eat the Rich, where Brown and Travis Croxton from Rappahannock Oyster Co. plan to focus on fresh seafood from the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States. Eat the Rich, named after a Motörhead tune, expects to serve up the usual suspects (blue crabs, striped bass, oysters) as well as some of the invasive species that have hurt the Chesapeake, including rapa whelks (which prey on clams and oysters) and perhaps even the infamous snakehead (which poses threats on multiple levels).
Shapiro says he plans to work with a group of fishermen to supply his kitchen with fresh products, sort of like a community supported agriculture program for fish. "Rather than going out and picking what we want, we’ll work with what’s available," Shapiro notes. The chef imagines a restaurant where mackerel and shad roe dishes will share space on the same menu with such offerings as eel pie and a fisherman's hangover soup.
"We’ll do stuff that people know and then work stuff in that they don't," Shapiro says. "The eel pie, I’ll probably try out and see what the feedback is.” (The eel pie, the chef adds, will have a particular resonance for those familiar with London's Eel Pie Island Hotel and its connection to early rock 'n' roll.)
Shapiro's selection shouldn't come as a complete shock. He and Brown share a connection to Palena, where at one time both worked for James Beard Award-winning chef Frank Ruta. Shapiro, in particular, considers Ruta a mentor, a chef who stressed the primacy of exacting ingredients and exacting measurements. Shapiro spent more than five years at Palena, from 2006 to 2011, after working in kitchens in Paris, New York City, San Francisco and Washington (where he helped Voltaggio open Charlie Palmer Steak).
After a few years of developing charcuterie for Society Fair, Range and the World Pate Croute Championship, Shapiro thought it was time to get out of the curing room and back into the kitchen. "I'm ready to be a chef," he says. "I’ve been doing the meat thing for awhile, but I wanted to be able to have another feather in my cap.”
Shapiro will be handling both the savory and sweet dishes at Eat the Rich. Will he also offer charcuterie?
"We’ll see," he responds. "I've done it, and I feel like it’s getting a little tired.”
Brown says he still has no official opening date for Eat the Rich; the team is aiming for a late September debut.
In the meantime, Voltaggio says he will continue his charcuterie program at Range without Shapiro at the helm. The chef says he's actively searching for a replacement but adds "if we don’t find someone we believe in, we have plenty of talent still here.”
Voltaggio says he talked to Shapiro about the move to Eat the Rich, even before the charcuterie specialist decided to take the job. "He did want to have his own stove. I was in full support of that," Voltaggio says. "Everybody has aspirations and goals. I’m not one to hold anybody back.”
The timing of Shapiro's departure is unfortunate for Range. The restaurant's long-delayed curing room — a 100-square-foot, temperature-controlled space for aging meats — is expected to go online this week, Voltaggio says. The chef has big plans for the room and Range's other two pieces of curing equipment: He expects to dry-age his own primal cuts of meat and start curing whole birds, such as ducks and pheasants.
"We will still work with the same respect and care as [Shapiro] did when he was here," Voltaggio says.
Earlier this year, Voltaggio lost his prized pizza-maker, Edan MacQuaid. The Range kitchen has continued to turn out pizzas without a new hire.