He's back. Michael Harr, that is, who returned to the D.C. area a few years ago. And now he's back cooking, as executive chef at Bethesda's Food Wine & Co. There he puts all the diverse aspects of his background and training into play, ranging from his love of farm-fresh ingredients to his knowledge of many cuisines, from Italian to Asian to that of the American Southwest.
A local boy whose grandfather owned a farm in Virginia's Accomack County, Harr learned early on to respect the earth's natural bounty. But what ignited his love for cooking began at home, where his mother inspired her son. "My mom is a passionate cook," he said. "That was my inspiration."
He also learned some basic restaurant skills, like dishwashing, when he was a teen, and working for his mom was his very first kitchen job. He later was permitted to work on the line making pizzas. Such experiences formed a passion for his future career and ensured he would get some formal education, graduating from Johnson & Wales University.
|If you go|
|Food Wine & Co.|
|Where: 7171 Wisconsin Ave., No. 2, Bethesda|
|Info: 301-652-8008; foodwineandco.com|
|Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday; 4 to 11:30 p.m. Saturday; 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday|
But Harr's cooking life has focused mainly on D.C.-area restaurants, starting with his stint with Jean-Louis Palladin. Their time working together proved inspirational, giving the young Harr knowledge about the workings of the kitchen. He also spent time in Bethesda's La Miche, La Colline on Capitol Hill, and later, at Mark Miller's Red Sage restaurant, where Harr learned about using bold spices to boost flavors.
Harr has also spent a generous amount of time traveling, from Miami and Canada to Las Vegas, and to kitchens in Europe. Most recently, Harr worked as the corporate chef for Celebrity Cruises. "That was very different from working in a ground restaurant," he said. "It was a floating hotel with lots of staff. ... We were feeding thousands every day." Not only was he responsible for creating menus and instructing the cooks, he said the experience was very multicultural. Beyond that, he took away an ideology. "There were guys who work hard with no days off," he said. "And they are still smiling. They must have a great attitude."
Now Harr has the chance to tweak and upgrade earlier menus at Food & Wine Co. With that in mind, he has drawn on his diverse cooking experiences, coming up with such dishes as the sweet basil mussels and the smoked salmon with crispy skin.
What's your comfort food?
I enjoy a fried chicken, but I love anything grilled, anything I can throw on the fire.
What's in your fridge?
Truffle butter, venison, farmed eggs, baby food and lots of veggies.
Any cooking tips?
Keep it simple. A lot of home cooks are always re-creating a recipe to impress, but they should stick to something simple and familiar.
Which is your favorite restaurant?
Marc Vetri's restaurants in Philadelphia and Estadio [in D.C.].
Where do you get your inspiration?
From the seasons and finding out what local farmers have. I let the vegetables speak for themselves. And what I have on hand ... all inspires me.
1 pound fresh pumpkin, peeled and cubed
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1Ú2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 small onion, thinly sliced
3 stalks celery, thinly sliced
3 shallots, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon diced fresh thyme
6 cups vegetable stock
2 tablespoons cold butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Put the pumpkin cubes on a baking sheet, and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 teaspoons salt. Roast until soft, about 10 minutes.
Heat a stockpot over medium heat, and add the remaining olive oil, onion, celery, shallot and garlic, and cook for about 4 minutes to soften. Add the cooked pumpkin, thyme and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and cook until all the vegetables are soft. Remove from the heat and pur?e in batches in a blender. Add the butter, remaining salt, sugar and white pepper. Garnish.