WASHINGTON — Jennifer Carroll is about to have one of the busiest weeks of her life.
The former “Top Chef” star and current chef at Requin is gearing up for D.C.’s Summer Restaurant Week, which runs Aug. 15-21.
“It is a really pressure-filled time in the kitchen,” said Carroll, who is partners with Mike Isabella at the French Mediterranean concept in the Mosaic District of Fairfax, Virginia.
“Lunch, brunch, dinner — every day of the week. And it is nonstop, go, go, go, go, go, put your head down and work.”
Restaurant Week, a biannual event organized by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW), started 15 years ago shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
RAMW President and CEO Kathy Hollinger says originally it was a way to get people out and back into the city’s restaurants.
Over the years, the program has grown tremendously. This summer, more than 250 restaurants in neighborhoods throughout the region are participating in the event, which offers diners multicourse meals for a fraction of the cost.
Three-course prix fixe lunches are $22 a person; dinners ring in at $35. And the deals work.
“We pretty much double, if not triple, the number of covers that we do during the week,” Carroll said.
To make sure the restaurant keeps up with demand, Carroll says nearly everyone on staff works double shifts all week long — especially in the kitchen.
“We need to do more prep, we need to get in a lot more food into our inventory, we need to make sure that there’s room in the walk-ins and to be constantly moving stuff around … and just being really super on top of it,” she said.
Her main priority is making sure the plates that go out to the dining room are up to the same standards they would be any other week. After all, it’s a chance for her to showcase her food — “what I put my heart and soul into” — to an audience that may never have visited if it wasn’t for Restaurant Week.
Because of that, Carroll does something a lot of chefs participating in Restaurant Week avoid: She makes sure her fixed lunch and dinner menus are a good representation of what’s normally on the menu.
Instead of limiting the diner to two or three options for each course, Requin’s Restaurant Week dinner menu offers six options for the first course, five for the second and four for dessert.
Favorites such as the eggplant tomato ratatouille, smashed fingerling potatoes, grilled swordfish with harissa, and crispy lamb shoulder all make the cut.
“Their experience will be a true experience. Even though it’s during Restaurant Week, it’s still the same food, the same menu, the same cooks executing everything, and I will still be on site,” Carroll said.
Requin is also offering a $55 four-course selection and its à la carte menu throughout the week.
If, in the past, you’ve been on the fence about participating in Restaurant Week, RAMW’s Hollinger says there’s a pretty good reason to partake this year: D.C. was just named Bon Appétit magazine’s restaurant city of the year.
“For those of us who have been in this region for quite some time, there are many who will say, ‘We knew that for a while.’ But really, to be recognized nationally as the best restaurant city in the country, it is such an honor, and it truly is a testament to the talent that we have in food service,” Hollinger said.
Carroll said she saw the recognition coming. After all, it was D.C.’s growing excitement for food that brought her to the nation’s capital from Philadelphia a few years ago.
She credits the area’s diners, who she says are adventurous and more excited than ever to get out and try something new.
“And [they] trust the chef, which is something that is really special that a lot of cities don’t have,” she said.
Restaurant Week runs Monday, Aug. 15 through Sunday, Aug. 21. You can find a full list of participating restaurants and menus on RAMW’s website.
The post Loosen your belts: DC’s Summer Restaurant Week returns appeared first on WTOP.