Culinary Education Crawl Feb. 17, 2013

Chef Brandon - Oyster Shucking At Culinary Edu Crawl

Barracks Row has not always been synonymous with restaurants. True, in 1913 the original Senart’s Oyster House at 520 8th Street, SE, was doing a bustling business serving oyster stew.  Today at that exact same location, Senart’s Oyster and Chop House has re-appeared due to the creativity of restaurant entrepreneur, Xavier Cervera. But there was a gap of almost one hundred years between these eateries.

The hundred year gap began with World War I, then the Depression, then World War II.  GI’s returned home in 1945 yearning for peace and quiet, more or less inventing the suburbs.  As with so many US cities, the depth of the urban dark ages here ranged from 1960 to 2000. Certainly the founders of Barracks Row Main Street deserve the credit for bringing 8th Street, SE, back from the brink with heroic physical improvement.  But the hidden market force behind the Row’s transformation has been savvy business owners who spotted an opportunity just as those dark ages were ending.

The Chef Who Saw Through the Fog

It has helped also to be an integral part of a diverse, international power center. The primary elements were all in place in 2003 when an ambitious young man planning soon to resign his job as chef at an embassy was taken by a realtor on a city-wide tour to scout sites for a restaurant. There was chaos on 8th Street. Workmen were tearing out cement sidewalks and replacing them with layers of sand so that brick sidewalks could be laid by hand. Huge, diseased trees were being dug out as elm saplings were being planted. But the chef saw through the fog of construction and told the realtor it was perfect. Bart Vandaele signed a long term lease and opened Belga Café at 514 8th Street, SE.  Many followed his lead.

Today, the beat continues. Directly across the street from Belga Cafe, Serbian chef preside at just-opened Ambar, 523 8th Street, SE, serving Balkan specialties. And four doors south of Belga Café at 524 8th Street, SE, Vanessa Lim and Chef Bill Tu are about to open Nooshi Sushi in a heavenly third floor all-glass aerie which includes a rooftop meditation garden. By the time you read this, Tash, featuring Middle Eastern kebabs, will be open on the first floor of that same building.

Learn to Cook From the Chefs of Barracks Row

If you frequent our burgeoning United Nations of restaurants, you may have wondered what actually goes into the creation of that perfectly seasoned sauce anchoring the Rigatoni Pesto at Lavagna, 539 8th Street, SE, or the secret ingredient that makes the Almond-Walnut Tart so scrumptious at Spring Mill Bread, 701 8th Street, SE.  Most of us will never complete chef’s training, much less brave opening a restaurant. But you can sample the depth and breadth of worldwide cooking techniques by taking classes at the up-coming Barracks Row Culinary Education Crawl on Sunday, February 17.  Barracks Row will be the campus and you can sign up for classes all day beginning at 9:30 a.m. or just take one or two classes. It’s totally ala carte.

Here’s a first look, at-a-glance, abbreviated course catalogue. A  few of the course descriptions are generalized because  the exact dishes and/or times they will teach were not available at press time. But all restaurants listed below (and possibly one or two more) will teach classes on Sunday, February 17. The event website will show complete course descriptions with precise times and dishes in early February as they become available. Sign up on the event website and bring home from your favorite Barracks Row chefs the secrets of their success. Don’t wait too long, though - last year this event sold out early!

To volunteer or for more information about the Barracks Row Culinary Education Crawl 2013 or any of the Barracks Row Main Street events call 202-544-3188 or go to