Ever wonder what it’s like to be a top D.C. chef? Danny Lledó is the chef and owner of Xiquet in Glover Park which just won the RAMMY for Formal Fine Dining. He grew up in Silver Spring, and his food blends traditional Spanish cuisine with Chesapeake Bay ingredients. He tells us what makes the D.C. restaurant scene special and what it’s REALLY like to be a top chef.
What do you think makes the D.C. culinary scene unique?
“Being the capital means D.C. brings in a lot of people internationally. It’s a nice melting pot of different cultures. There is something for everyone here, from Michelin-starred joints to everyday restaurants. The scene has transformed in the last 10 - 20 years from a gastronomical perspective. More restaurants are focusing on the quality of the products, and there are simply more dining options.”
What’s your culinary style?
“We want to take traditional flavors and present them in the best way possible. Sometimes, things get deconstructed or repositioned, but the original flavor is there. So, if your grandma came and ate it, she would love it and say ‘wow that was fancy’.”
You grew up in Silver Spring and live in Georgetown. How did that influence your culinary work?
“It influences our menu quite a bit. We had Maryland blue crab on our menu last season. It was a rice dish where we married paella and blue crab. During the summer, we’ll use local produce and what’s in season. For example, right now, we have a nice grilled eggplant dish with grilled local peaches and almonds to go with it.”
Besides your own, what are your favorite restaurants in D.C.?
“For special occasions, my favorite restaurants are Bresca and Fiola Mare. For something more casual, like a date night, I’d go to Jônt or Sushi Nakazawa.”
What’s your day-to-day routine like as a chef/owner?
“You’d think I’d have more opportunity to cook and prep, but most of the time, I’m behind a laptop running the business. You get full control, but you don’t always get to do the cooking. I save the mornings for administration and the afternoon for cooking. I love being a part of service.”
What advice would you give someone starting in the DC culinary scene?
“Do what you love, do your research, and have a good market perspective. Really, the biggest focus for me is to do what makes you happy. Come into the restaurant with passion. That’s where the true talent comes out. Stay on course in terms of what you want to do. Whether it is a specific style or cuisine, learn as much as you can about it. Then, see how it can become part of the community.”