What makes a top chef tick? We chatted with Bertrand Chemel, the executive chef of of 2941 in Falls Church, to learn about his thoughts on kimchi, when tomatoes are at their peak, and how the pandemic has transformed his cuisine.
Have you always loved food?
I always liked food. I always liked to eat. My grandma used to make big holiday meals—I was always in the kitchen. My mom has pictures of me at 5, 6, 7, trying to help. I never really realized that I liked to be around food.
How has cooking changed for you in the last year?
Before, I was a little more conservative on my dishes. Now there are no more boundaries—kind of like the fish bulgogi. People think it’s going to be a grilled steak barbecue—they’re going to be surprised! I love to see their reactions. Every time we try to change our tasting menu, we take a classic dish we really like and we transform the flavor of it. After COVID, it was a blow for everyone in the industry. We wanted to give a little twist to our cooking. Things changed—that was the fun part.
Is there any food you can’t stand?
I would say Asian dried fish. I like sour, but I’m not crazy about kimchi. I can incorporate kimchi in a dish, but I wouldn’t eat kimchi by itself. My wife is Romanian—she can drink pickle juice. That is not for me—that’s my limit.
What do you love to cook at home that you’d never serve at 2941?
One dish I really love in summer is stuffed tomatoes. But the only way it’s good is when the tomato starts to crack a little bit. They still have their shape, you touch them, and they’re all going to break. That’s a dish that’s hard to make at the restaurant, but, eh, the flavor is so good. It’s a hard dish to present well.
What’s the best restaurant in Northern Virginia?
I think we are in that league. I really like the [Restaurant at] Patowmack [Farm]. I also like Field & Main. I really love [chef/owner] Neal Wavra. He’s awesome. I met him a couple of years ago—I really like his philosophy about the wine. He’s one of the most talented sommeliers in the region. We love Trummer’s, as well. Obviously I’m going to exclude Inn at Little Washington—[chef/proprietor Patrick O’Connell] is above that league.