Don’t Call Him Chef: DC Restaurateur Hates to Cook - NBC4 Washington

Don’t Call Him Chef: DC Restaurateur Hates to Cook

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    Don't Call Him Chef

    Not everyone who dreams of becoming a top chef gets training in culinary schools. Barbara Harrison has the story of an award-winning local chef who ended up in the kitchen because he was hungry. (Published Friday, April 12, 2019)

    A D.C. restaurateur got into the business simply because he was hungry, but don’t call him “chef.”

    “I hate cooking,” Sammy Davis Jr. said. “I hate being in the kitchen. I hate cooking. I hate anything that has to do with it.”

    He calls it a catch 22 — the name he gave to his brand new restaurant at the corner of Georgia and Missouri avenues in Washington.

    Catch 22 because-- he may hate cooking, but customers sure seem to love what he cooks.

    Davis said he and his sister moved around a lot when they were kids. His mother was on drugs and his father was killed when he was a kid, so he and his sister were shuffled between relatives and family acquaintances. Born in Richmond, Virginia, they wound up in Washington where they continue moving from home to home.

    Davis ended up in Atlanta, and at 16, he was living on the streets, surviving on petty crimes.

    “That’s how I survived in the streets for the longest as I was in the streets, was just robbing and stealing,” he said.

    Until he got into the restaurant business.

    “I really got in the restaurant business so that I could eat,” he said.

    He took a job as a dishwasher at a McDonalds in Atlanta, then kept moving to bigger and fancier restaurants, always beginning at the sink and moving up.

    “The good thing about a dishwasher is that the dishwasher sees everything,” Davis said. “He's kind of like the, you know, like they say bench players become the best coaches because the bench players can see the whole game.”

    He watched and he learned.

    “I went from dishwasher to executive sous chef in one year,” he said. “I worked every position in that kitchen.”

    He began opening restaurants in Atlanta, and a win on Food Network's "Chopped" made him a familiar culinary name across the country. He now owns three restaurants in the D.C. area, packing folks in, especially for the shrimp and grits — a mainstay at Catch 22.

    Another funny catch: He was afraid of the ocean as a kid and now he’s like an "old salt" when it comes to cooking seafood.

    Just don't call him a chef.

    “Hopefully we go from chef to restaurateur to just Sammy Davis,” he said.

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