More than a month after executive chef Jon Mathieson left BLT Steak to start cooking for men with big appetites, the D.C. steakhouse has officially announced his replacement: Jeremy Shelton, a Florida native who honed his chops at some of the best restaurants in the Sunshine State, including Scarpetta at the Fontainebleau and Azul at the Mandarin Oriental Miami.
Most recently executive sous chef at Bourbon Steak in Miami, Shelton has already relocated to the BLT Steak on I Street NW, getting familiar with the corporate recipes and his kitchen crew, many of whom have been at the restaurant for years. In a way, it's a strange position for the new executive chef: Isn't his team training him as much as vice versa?
"To a certain extent they do," Shelton says after lunch service today. "I can't do my job without them so it's important I have their support."
Shelton says he decided to leave his home state for a number of reasons. One of his motivations was to "experience a place that has four seasons." The one-dimensional nature of Florida's weather — hot and hotter — may be great for snowbirds, but it wreaks havoc on local produce. "The growing season is very short because of the weather," Shelton says. "Just because it's so hot so fast."
The chef says his experience not only with Bourbon Steak but also with Scott Conant's Scarpetta, both of which have "the same kind of structure in place," makes it easier for him to fit into ESquared Hospitality, the international company owned by Jimmy Haber and Keith Treyball. At the same time, Shelton, like the other BLT Steak chefs before him, is rubbing his hands together in anticipation of the blackboard menu.
"I do have the ability to change the blackboard," he says. "That is my creative outlet to express myself." Shelton expects to add his touch to the blackboard menu by the end of this week or early next. As for any hints to his future specials, Shelton plays it coy. He says his philosophy is that "food should be fun." Sometimes the specials will "be something fun and cool...to keep us motivated in the kitchen," he says.
Shelton plans to focus his attention on at least two areas in particular: One is the steakhouse's Wagyu program, that ultra-expensive beef with the rich inter-muscular fat. Shelton hopes to expand the program with both American and Japanese Wagyu cuts, including an American Wagyu strip steak, which should hit the menu on Friday.
The other area is charcuterie, although that may not be the right word for it. Shelton doesn't plan to introduce a wide line of cured and aged products, but instead create more "bar-oriented" snacks such as elk or venison jerky. He just has to be careful, he says. The snacks need to have "the right approach that fits the environment of the steakhouse," he says. "It's something that can't be too informal."