Feasting Famously with Beth Kanter
Author of Washington DC Chef’s Table Cookbook dishes about the book and more
Beth Kanter is a DC-based author who knows her way around the restaurant scene – from K Street to Bethesda, cookbooks to Michelin guide books; Beth knows the area’s culinary scene very well. Which is why I was surprised at how quickly she responded when I asked about doing this interview.
Naturally, I assumed she was making chile rellenos with Jose Andres, or helping Michel Richard fix the water damage at Citronelle…I actually think she said something about children in her response. Children?! I can barely keep up with my real job and my culinary escapades on the onlines, yet alone worry about the survival of others, not to mention write several popular DC-themed culinary books. That’s it, I’ve found Superwoman, and she will meet me for coffee wearing a cape.
Sigh…no cape. But in walks a very bubbly and happy Beth Kanter, whom politely declines an offer of coffee (which scared me for several reasons as I assumed coffee was the source of her superpowers), as she sits down to chat with me at a downtown hotel.
I actually received her latest book, Washington, DC Chef’s Table: Extraordinary Recipes from the Nation’s Capital, as a Christmas present and was very happy to see recipe’s from some of my favorite DC restaurants such as; The Source, Ripple, Mandu, and more. Therefore, and perhaps needless to say, I was stoked to meet her. I mean, she must have some serious dirt on these Chefs to pry their top secret recipes from their grip. Again theories of super human strength and mystical powers creep into my mind.
Taking a break from spending far too much time with Members of Congress, Beth and I actually sat down for a nice little Q&A session where, after she signed my book, obviously, I got to know Beth Kanter, the person.
The first thing I wanted to know was what was the inspiration for her book? “Right before I started Washington, DC Chef’s Table,” she says, “I had just finished my second book, Food Lovers’ Guide to Washington, D.C. As I was writing FLG I kept uncovering these wonderful stories attached to the food scene here in DC. Everyone seemed to have a tale to tell of what carried them to the kitchen – a favorite family story, a colorful memory, an unexpected encounter. I wanted to give a voice to that personal aspect. I wanted to write about the stories behind the food. So each recipe in the book includes a story about the chef, dish or restaurant along with photos. The three pieces taken together – recipe, story and photos – help the stories leap off the page.” See, this is where scratch-and-sniff technology could be appropriately applied. Well, maybe not, my book already has drool marks.
With inspiration in the bag, DC has about a bazillion restaurants; I was very interested in how she chose which ones to feature. I would have thrown darts at the wall, or raced cats with their names spray-painted on them. Somehow, I don’t think Beth even thought of that. “I wanted to show the whole breadth of the food experience in the city,” Beth says. “I wanted a mix of the established old guard and the new rock stars along with a generous sprinkling of neighborhood haunts and local favorites.” And she does have a great mix. I actually think all of my favorite DC restaurants are in her book.
The food scene here in town is part of the greater community.
She adds, “What I love about the book is that you can find the recipe for classic mac on one page from the CapMac food truck and the recipe for boudin blanc from Marcel’s on another. We also include recipes from Miriam’s Kitchen and the fabulous Sunflower Bakery (a work training program for adults with developmental disabilities) to show that the food scene here in town is part of the greater community.”
With access to so many Chefs, and knowing all the restaurants in DC, I wanted to know, as a lobbyist, where she likes to lunch. Beth says, “I love lunch at Ris, especially the entrée salads,” she then asks me to give them another shot. She also is a fan of Teaism for really anything and at any time.
Switching from a lobbyist favorite eating activity, lunching, to another well-known past time, I ask Beth what her favorite spots are for happy hour. “I have young children so happy hour usually is homework hour during the week in my house,” that sounds terrible. She continues, “But I love the bar program at Ripple and the cocktail menu at Range and Mintwood Place. And, barmini has just blown me away. What an amazing place to sip a drink. The mixologists there have taken it to the next level – an art form really.” See, a bar and a daycare really need to team up. Just make sure the parents don’t end up hogging all the toys after about an hour. Oh, and Uber should get involved too. Children can’t really reach the petals yet to drive their parents home.
I think the food scene here is fun, vibrant and really reflects all that DC has become.
Many people have various opinions on the DC area food scene, and as someone who is so close to the scene herself, I ask Beth how she has seen this culinary microcosm evolve. “Things have changed so much since I first moved here in 1991 I still sometimes am amazed at the transformation. I think the food scene here is fun, vibrant and really reflects all that DC has become – a fun, creative and fabulous place to live – and eat. I love that there are great restaurants opening all the time here while at the same time we have all these amazing pop-up restaurants, underground supper clubs, food trucks and subscription services growing right alongside the traditional brick-and-mortar players.” Agreed. Next.
Okay, enough about dining out, does Beth Kanter cook?
No. No she doesn’t. Hence the book on what other people are cooking. “My husband does the vast majority of cooking in our family,” she says, “and my ten-year-old son is starting to do a lot, too. Lucky me. I do like to make soup and make a mean mushroom barley soup. I cook up the first batch of the season once the leaves start changing colors in the fall.” Despite what Beth says, mushrooms don’t have to be mean.
I do cook, and I have disasters, surely Beth has had some blunders? “Well, I have my share of burns on my hands.” Don’t we all Beth, don’t we all.
Burns healed, it’s time for the Feasting Famously Fast Five, and thankfully I had enough coffee talking to Beth, that these shot out faster than a Joe Wilson comment at the State of the Union. Too soon?
Congress – make it work
Lobbyists – shoes
Hamburger – French Fries
The Palm – old school
DC Food Scene – fun
Thankfully I wear nice shoes! Beth is fun, smart, and creative. Her books are full of DC foodie knowledge for the District dweller and tourist alike. So go buy them already!