Brimming with enthusiasm and passion for his job, Alfredo Rosas, chef-manager of Dupont Circle's ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen, looks forward to work each day. "What I do, it affects my life. I am really happy," he says. "And a lot of people can't say that. Every morning I come in and it is an adventure every day."
A Peruvian native who arrived in this country nine years ago, Rosas thinks back to his early days in D.C., a time when he not only did not speak the language, but also could not find work. Of course, he was not trained to cook, having earned a degree in economics and having worked as an accountant in Peru.
Searching for work in the D.C. area, Rosas turned to the restaurant trade, and as luck would have it, he discovered the restaurant's sister company, Chipotle Mexican Grill. Much to his delight -- and relief -- he was offered a job there. "I didn't speak much English at the time," he says. "But they gave me the opportunity to start growing, and to learn English. I wasn't happy as an auditor, never satisfied."
|If you go|
|ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen|
|Where: 1516 Connecticut Ave. NW|
|Info: 202-232-4141; shophousekitchen.com|
|Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily|
But today, as he rolls into work, he faces a series of surprises, starting with what he may find going on in the kitchen. "I get to the kitchen, see the food and greet people," he says. "I spend most of day in kitchen, prepping food shoulder by shoulder with the staff." He has now discovered a passion for all aspects of cooking.
For someone raised on Latin foods, Rosas has found the ShopHouse menu a bit exotic at times. For the metro area's uninitiated, this relatively new restaurant started about a year ago, based on the Southeast Asian establishments that stage a restaurant on a ground floor with living quarters above.
Thanks to Chipotle's CEO and founder Steve Ells, ShopHouse has come about as a way to translate the Chipotle model into a showcase for other cuisines -- in this case, Southeast Asian with an emphasis on Thai cooking.
The concept really works, and the mealtime crowds are living proof. "I like the Asian flavors a lot," Rosas says. "The food is so flavorful, so exotic ... it is incredible." But for him, the real joy of this job is offering others the same kind of career opportunities that he had. "I love to tell people what I do, and I can tell others that they can change their life," he says. "It is amazing to help others, it is like love. I am not just doing something to make money. It is work, but it doesn't have a price. So when they say thank you, it is 'wow.' "
What is your comfort food?
It will be like ice cream. That is pretty much my comfort food.
What's in your fridge?
Soy milk ... I started discovering healthful eating when I started at Chipotle, so the refrigerator is filled with lots of lettuce, cheese, chicken and orange juice. What I have most is what I get fresh at market, just enough for the meal.
What do you do in your leisure time?
I pretty much go out with my daughter. I spend the most time I can with her. We go to the park, ride bikes, buy food together. She decides what we are going to do.
Which is your favorite restaurant?
I want to be honest. This is my favorite restaurant.
Which is your must-have ingredient?
Cumin, because that has a lot of flavor and you can cook a lot of things with it. Then pepper, salt.
Thai-style crying tiger
A very popular Thai dish, this spicy grilled beef pairs beautifully with steamed jasmine rice -- for a special treat, you can substitute steamed sticky, or glutinous, rice for the long-grain rice. You can readily find palm sugar at any Asian market.
2 tablespoons toasted and ground coriander seeds
2 tablespoons palm sugar
1 tablespoon toasted and ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon salt
Splash of fish sauce
2 pounds hanger steak
Green beans, raw, for garnish
Shredded carrots, for garnish
Sliced cucumbers, for garnish
4 cloves fresh garlic
4 dried Thai bird's eye chilies
1 stalk lemongrass, thinly sliced crosswise
1/2 cup lime juice
1/2 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
Handful of cilantro leaves
Combine all spices for the steak. Rub onto the steak until evenly coated. Splash fish sauce onto the steak until lightly and evenly coated/wet. Grill to medium-rare, and rest for five minutes. Thinly slice on the bias and place on a serving platter.
For the dipping sauce, pound the garlic, chilies, lemongrass,and whole coriander seeds in a mortar and pestle until it's a wet paste. Add the lime juice, fish sauce and sugar, and stir. Garnish with cilantro leaves. Serve with sliced steak, and garnish the steak with green beans, carrot and cucumbers. Serve steamed rice.