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Q&A: Chef Nick Palermo at Angler's Inn

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Entertainment,Food and Drink,Alexandra Greeley

Working in a bucolic country setting must be a dream job. Add to that the delight of assembling a classic French menu with American flourishes and that is how executive chef Nick Palermo of Old Angler's Inn spends his days. And the irony: Palermo found the job on Craig's List just about two years ago.

Like many of his colleagues, Palermo -- who comes from an Italian family from Syracuse, N.Y. -- grew up appreciating food and its preparation. "We always cooked at home," he says, "and we rarely went out to eat. ... I had no concept growing up of what good restaurants are." As a teen, he took a job as a dishwasher, which he described as easy because one doesn't have to think about the tasks.

Working his way through college at Syracuse University, Palermo was hired as a line cook at a local restaurant. In his sophomore year, he enrolled in a food safety course, and he found it so interesting that he majored in hospitality and restaurant management. Even before he graduated, Palermo decided he wanted to be a chef, and subsequently enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America.

During his time at the Culinary Institute, Palermo externed at the renowned five star, five diamond restaurant Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Va. "My main goal was to work and not pick herbs all day," he says. "I was a proficient line cook, cooking basic dishes."

If you go
Old Angler's Inn
» Where: 10801 MacArthur Blvd., Potomac
» Info: 301-365-2425; oldanglersinn.com
» Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday; dinner, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 5:30 to 10:45 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 5:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday; brunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday

After graduating from the Culinary Institute, Palermo moved to the Washington area, and after attending a career fair, was hired by the then-chef of 2941 restaurant in Falls Church, Jonathan Krinn. There he sharpened his cooking skills and eventually became the restaurant's sous-chef.

After three intense years at 2941, Palermo began a series of cooking jobs, starting with a month-long stint at one of the best restaurants in the world, Hotel de Ville in Crissier, Switzerland. When he returned to the United States, Palermo worked briefly in Virginia before moving to Nashville, Tenn., to relaunch a local hot spot called Merchants. Although the restaurant received great reviews, Palermo was eager to move on, and even thought about abandoning his kitchen career altogether to teach in a culinary school.

But as fate would have it, upon his return to the metro area, Palermo was fortunate enough to be hired by Eric Ziebold of CityZen. "That re-energized me to stay in the profession," says Palermo. "I saw techniques done the way they should be. The food was cooked perfectly."

After six months of 70-hour workweeks at CityZen, where he worked as a line cook, Palermo was ready to accept a key position in a top-tier restaurant ... and his wish was granted.

Q&A

What is your comfort food?

Fried chicken. Popeyes is awesome. I just wish it were spicier. I love the wings.

What's in your fridge?

Milk eggs, water, maybe some leftovers.

Which is your favorite restaurant?

2941 and CityZen.

What is your luckiest moment?

Maybe because so much of the skills and career-building came from what I learned at 2941. I was lucky to start there then. That has been responsible for most of my career.

Which is your must-have ingredient?

Veal stock because it can fix anything. Veal stock and butter.

Recipe

Haddock Marinara

Serves about 3

The haddock can be replaced with any white flaky fish such as cod or hake or bluefish. Shrimp and mussels are also optional. Virtually any other seafood can be added to the dish such as clams or scallops.

1 (15-ounce) can peeled plum tomatoes (crush by hand or pulse in food processor)

About 2 tablespoons diced Spanish onion

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon chili flakes

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 pound haddock filet

1 dozen mussels

6 each, 16-20 shrimp peeled and deveined

1/2 pound uncooked dry pasta, such as spaghettini

1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley

1 tablespoon fresh chopped basil

Grated Parmesan for garnish

Sweat the onions in the extra virgin olive oil until they become soft, and season with salt and chili flakes. Add the garlic and sweat for an additional 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 10 minutes over medium heat. Add the white wine to the sauce, cook for about a minute and add the haddock to the sauce and cover. It is time to cook the pasta in salted boiling water as directed on the package, usually around 6 to 8 minutes. After the fish has been cooking for about three minutes add the shrimp and the mussels, and cover for an additional 3 to 5 minutes. The fish should flake easily, the shrimp should be firm and pink, and the mussels should be fully open. Remove the seafood and transfer to either a platter or individual plates. Drain the pasta and toss with the tomato sauce. Add fresh herbs and adjust seasoning. Serve with a garnish of grated Parmesan cheese.

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