Instagramming Food Porn For Restaurants? That’s A Real Job.

Society Fair’s butcher and self-described “curd nerd,” Justin Owens, is spooning out quenelles of pistachio-studded pâté. He’s placing them onto a butcher’s block adorned with artfully displayed rounds of Genoa ham, ribbony piles of Serrano ham, and triangular pork rillettes. While he creates the charcuterie platter, Vina Sananikone darts around him with her iPhone, trying to snap the perfect picture.

Wearing a carrot-colored sweater over a lace sundress and cowboy boots, she could never be mistaken for a member of the kitchen crew. Rather, she’s actually a multimedia maven—“that’s what it says on my business card,” she says.

Unhappy with the shot she got, Sananikone asks Owens to stop for a moment and pick up the twine he uses to ensure the meats are in perfectly straight lines. She checks her screen. “Hold it right there,” she instructs, and then takes the photograph. “Got it.”

Later that afternoon, the well-composed shot will appear on Society Fair’s Twitter and Instagram feeds. In the meantime, Sananikone heads into the back room of the upscale food emporium in Alexandria, where she works most days. On an elevated pub table, her laptop is set up—a sticker of a juice box coyly framing the glowing Apple logo—next to a pro-grade Canon camera and a flurry of papers. The space is framed by shelving on three sides jammed full of gear for the market: coffee filters, cupcake towers, and wooden berry baskets.

Finish reading the story on the Washington City Paper website now.


What Happens When Classic Dishes Get Nixed

When Restaurant Eve’s team decided to take its much-loved miniature birthday cake off the menu earlier this year, co-owner Meshelle Armstrong was barraged with negative feedback. “People went nuts,” she says. “Many customers told us we had ruined their meals.”

There was more criticism waiting when she got home. Her daughter, Eve, the restaurant’s namesake, was devastated. For the past 13 years, Armstrong and her husband, chef and co-owner Cathal, have served the petite pink pastry to Eve in bed for her birthday breakfast. To say their daughter had an emotional attachment to the sweet treat was putting it mildly. She wasn’t the only one. “For a lot of people, the cake represents childhood, comfort and nostalgia,” says Armstrong. “It’s made with simple ingredients. No flash, no glitz, just happiness.”

The uproar made Armstrong realize the cake had to return. It was resurrected on the menu at sister restaurant and market Society Fair a short while later. They now offer approximately six per day during the week and 20 daily on the weekends. (The cake always sells out, so call ahead to check its availability). And here’s a secret for cake connoisseurs: The cute confection can be ordered in advance by phone through Society Fair to be served at dinner over at Restaurant Eve.

Finish reading this article on Zagat now.


Protein Bar Challenge: I Get By With a Little Help From My Chef Friends (Day 14)

Chefs are constantly surrounded by unhealthy food choices in the kitchen, and it’s their job to be testing it relentlessly. Oftentimes these quick bites don’t add up to a full meal, so they end up eating dinner late at night or early in the wee hours of the morning after work (and they usually aren’t choosing salads). Most gyms are closed at those hours, which leaves precious little time in the morning to get in a workout before they’re back on the line again.

This is all to say that chefs have the most barriers of any profession when it comes to eating well and exercising regularly (though food writers are a close second). So I chatted with five of them – Cathal Armstrong (Restaurant Eve), Jeff Tunks (Fuego Cocina y Tequileria), David Guas (Bayou Bakery), Glenn Rolnick (Carmine’s) and Dennis Marron (Poste) – who have undertaken weight loss programs and/or exercise regimens to see how they handled it. Their answers are an inspiration to me as I continue on with my Protein Bar Challenge, which has helped me drop 10 pounds in the past two weeks.

Cathal Armstrong – Chef/Owner of Restaurant Eve

When did you know that you had to lose weight?

I looked at a photo and said, ‘Who is this guy?’ I had big love handles, and you couldn’t tell where my chin started and my neck ended.

What finally made you go on a diet and start exercising?

I went in for a physical and weighed in at 221, the heaviest I had ever been. Between the photo and the doctor’s visit, that was it. I had to do something, particularly if I’m going to be an advocate for healthy school lunches for kids. I mean, I can’t be fat; that just looks ridiculous.

What was that regimen?  

I stopped drinking soda completely and eliminated alcohol 100 percent, except on Sunday. Mostly I changed when I eat, not what I eat. I have dinner with the staff at 4:30, and then I don’t eat after that. I didn’t give up anything. I eat more fruit, more raw food and fiber in my diet, take a good vitamin supplement and spirulina, a super-food. And I drink lots of water. The other big thing is exercise: energy in, energy out. I took up Tae Kwon Do, which is my passion.  I work out 6 times a week and am currently the National Champion in my weight class.

How much weight did you lose?

Initially, I lost 24 pounds. However, I have kept up with Tae Kwon Do and eating right, so I lost about 40 pounds total.  Right now I am in the best shape of my life.

What was the hardest part?

The hardest part of working out is the first day. Realistically though, it’s the second day, because, after your first workout, you are going to be very sore.  Getting through the barrier of the initial pain of working out for the first time takes a lot of determination and focus.  Mentally prepare yourself for it.  I started working out in the gym first before I went to a trainer and that was definitely helpful.

What food did you miss the most?

Late night sandwiches. I used to love to come home from work and have a turkey and cheese sandwich before I went to bed, but really any sandwich late at night was night was delicious.

Is there a food that you came to love?

When you work out you start craving certain food.  One thing I really craved was fruits, and I really couldn’t get enough of them – pears, apples, peaches, oranges, whatever was lying around.  More vegetables, too. It’s funny that somehow when you are exercising your body knows what you need.

Do you have tip that helped you during your weight loss?

Pick a date that you are going to start working out.  Don’t break it; don’t make any excuses.  Start slowly.  I started initially with an app on my phone, going to the gym. I gradually built towards getting physically fit again. Later on, a personal trainer made a huge difference. When I knew someone was there waiting for me to meet, that I had an appointment, it made me get up on days that were raining or I didn’t feel like getting out of bed.  It really motivated me not to break my commitment.  Really determination is the biggest thing – you have to decide that you want to do it and are committed. Then once you start, it’s actually pretty easy.  The initial weight comes off really quickly. Having a scale in the bathroom where you monitor your weight at a set time each week really helps. Watching those pounds fall off is so encouraging and it keeps you going.

Finish reading this story on the CityEats’ Plate blog now.


Gastro Gadgetry

Walk into a restaurant kitchen these days, and you might think that you accidentally stumbled into Q’s laboratory full of high-tech gear for James Bond. There are cutting-edge apparatuses that resemble futuristic ray guns, intricate torture devices and even high-end bongs. These culinary contraptions would have made Rube Goldberg proud, but they’ll also make you some of the most surprising dishes and drinks around.

Ted’s Bulletin

The gadget: Macallan Ice Ball Machine

Cost: $1000+

What it’s used for: The Jessie Clark cocktail made with chamomile-infused scotch, mandarin marmalade, and chocolate bitters.

Why it’s awesome: It creates a perfect icy sphere, which melts slower than traditional cubes. This way your drink is chilled out without getting watered down.

Finish reading this post on CityEat’s The Plate now.


Garden Varieties: On-Site Gardens Offer Fresh Produce For Local Restaurants


Summer is the most popular vacation season of the year, so it makes sense that area chefs would want to get away, too. But several of them aren’t headed far from their kitchens. They’re just out back in on-site gardens, an increasingly popular feature of restaurants that allows them to showcase homegrown — and extra-nutritious — produce. “We pluck tomatoes off the vine and put them right in salads,” says Harth’s executive chef, Tom Elder. “It doesn’t get any fresher than that.”

Executive chef Robert Weland kept things simple when he planted his first garden on Poste’s patio in the spring of 2005, cultivating only a few herbs. Now the space is bursting with fig and almond trees, and beds of lettuce. There are also 16 kinds of heirloom tomatoes, including rare varieties such as the pale yellow Ananas and sweet, earthy Chocolate Stripes, which are used in the chef’s tasting menu, 20 Bites. “There’s something really special about eating a tomato in the middle of the garden where it was grown,” says Weland, who offered up one of his recipes.

» 555 8th St. NW; 202-783-6060,

20110801-gardenvarietes-250.jpgThe Fairmont
This West End spot makes sure visitors sip or nibble on something homegrown. Blossoms from the cherry trees sass up the vinaigrette dressing; peppermint adds mojo to mojitos; and the white-, green- and purple-flecked tri-color sage brings a sweetly savory note to the signature duck breast entree’s blackberry sauce.

» 2401 M St. NW; 202-429-2400,

Finish reading this article and get Weland’s gazpacho recipe on the Express website now.


Creamy Smooth Operators: D.C. Dines on Spreadable Cheese

20100916-DC-cheese-1-250When you think smooth and cheesy, you may think of a Barry White ballad. But at some of the capital region’s best restaurants, chefs are also incorporating incredible spreadable cheeses into their most delectable dishes. These smooth stars of the dairy world add an element of scrumptious creaminess that’s impossible to deny no matter how they’re being used. Get the dish over at the Express website now.