Chris Edwards: Country chef, city food

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Entertainment,Food and Drink,Alexandra Greeley
How many chefs can you name who have risen from the kitchens of a Red Robin eatery to those of the famed -- but now closed -- Restaurante El Bulli in Spain? If you cannot summon a name, here is one for you: Christopher Edwards, executive chef of the Restaurant at Patowmack Farm in Lovettsville, Va.

Located in the Loudoun countryside, the restaurant's location give patrons a glimpse of woods and farmland, plus a peek at the Potomac river far below. Working is such a setting would be a big plus for any eager chef. For Edwards, he gains yet another benefit -- he can shape the day's menu around produce just picked from the restaurant's adjacent farmland.

A Woodbridge native, Edwards launched his culinary career back when he was in preschool. "I made Winnie the Pooh peanut butter balls, a no-bake cookie," he said. "I made butter and ice cream in kindergarten, too. That sparked my interest in cooking."

If you go
The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm
» Where: 42461 Lovettsville Road, Lovettsville, Va.
» Info: 540-822-9017; patowmackfarm.com
» Hours: Dinner, 5:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday to Saturday; brunch, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

He also watched his mom, someone who follows recipes to the letter, cook -- and enjoyed having a batch of recipes handed down from his grandmother. "She was a very good cook," he said. "She was much more accustomed to having to cook on the fly and using what was available ... creating with what she had to take care of a larger family."

By the time Edwards reached high school, he began to seriously think about a future career. After all, as he says, he spent all his time in the kitchen working on recipes. His post-grad choice? Culinary school, enrolling at Johnson & Wales University when it was located in Charleston, S.C. After graduation, he remained in South Carolina, working at McCrady's Restaurant, for then-executive chef Michael Kramer. "He was from California, so the food he cooked was not like the regional foods of the South," Edwards said. "His food was California cuisine: light, fresh, and he had a California style that stood out." In addition, Edwards said, he learned from Kramer the art and style of fine-dining cooking. "We were well recognized as one of the best restaurants in Charleston. We had a good run," he said.

When the time came for Edwards to move on, he chose to head to Spain -- because he was both fluent in Spanish and intrigued by the Spanish culinary revolution launched by Ferran Adria of El Bulli fame. "I grabbed a guidebook and started researching which chefs I wanted to work for," he said. "I received four letters, and El Bulli came through."

Upon his return to the United States, Edwards worked for another high-profile restaurant, at the Ritz-Carlton's now-closed Maestro with star chef, Fabio Trabocchi. All these kitchen experiences helped shape the chef Edwards has become: equally dedicated to hard work and to using fresh and from-the-farm ingredients.

Q&A

What is your comfort food?

One of my favorites to eat it tacos, and I must cook them myself with all the condiments and with sour cream. And barbecue.

Do you have a favorite cookbook?

I'm always looking at El Bulli's cookbook, and I even bought it in Spanish. That's not as useful to me, but I am always looking through it. Fabio's cookbook [Fabio Trabocchi, formerly chef at Maestro, now owns Fiola in DC]. I use that a lot and I like cookbooks with stories.

What's in your fridge?

Dr Pepper, and it's diet, too. I have way too much cheese, because we do make quesadillas, so a Mexican blend of cheese, and so many condiments you can't even imagine. My refrigerator door makes lots of noise when I open it up.

Which chef do you admire most in the world?

Ferran Adria, because of all he has accomplished and to have been a part of it, even though I am not cooking the same way he does. That [El Bulli] was the ultimate; he has achieved what no one else can ever do again. He transcended being a chef.

Where is your favorite place in the world?

I would say any place in the Caribbean. I have only been to St. Thomas, St. John and Jamaica. I love fresh foods .... seafood, tropical fruits.

Recipe

Jamaican Jerk Marinade

Yields about 2 cups marinade, or enough for 5 pounds of meat

Scotch bonnet pepper sauce can be found in the international section of many local supermarkets -- chef Edwards prefers the brand Grace or Tropical Pepper Co. This paste will season up to 5 pounds of pork, chicken or shrimp

1 cup sliced green onions

1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon scotch bonnet pepper sauce

1/2 lime, skin and all

2 cloves

10 allspice berries

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

In a blender, blend all the ingredients together into a coarse paste. Massage this paste generously to coat the meat, and let it marinate preferably overnight, or at least 1 hour. The meat should be cooked on the grill preferably.

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Author:

Alexandra Greeley

Special to The Washington Examiner
The Washington Examiner