Executive chef Mario Raymond at The Washington Court Hotel's Bistro 525, looks like an energetic teen. While talking about his cooking, his family life and his childhood, Raymond gives listeners the sense that he really never slows down, even though his workdays may extend for very long hours.
His enthusiasm for his career spills over to his cooking, but it turns out that this Ohio native actually has come by his culinary gifts naturally. "I came from a big Italian family," he explained. "We cooked all the time. At 4, I already was cooking eggs in a cast iron skillet. You just did it."
The family also provided some cooking context, too, because his family members were cooking all the time. "Once a month, she made pasta," he said of his grandmother. "She rolled it out the dough and hung it all over the house on a collection of bamboo poles."
|If you go|
|Where: Washington Court Hotel, 525 New Jersey Ave. NW|
|Hours: Daily, 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.|
At the age of 12, Raymond found himself working in a bakery with a group of Italian ladies. "So I baked all the time," he said. "People were amazed at the pies, cookies and cakes I made."
Surprisingly, Raymond admits that, in college, he studied biology instead of going to culinary school. But he always knew that cooking and food are ways to make people happy. "When I was younger," he said, "it did not occur to me to turn it [cooking] into an occupation. It just happened that way because of the several excellent chefs that I was fortunate to work under. Konrad Meier at the Omni Shoreham Hotel was the major influence on my career path. ... I had no formal college or culinary training. I was just lucky to work under certain chefs."
Considering his Italian heritage, it's not surprising to learn that he often chooses Italian ingredients and flavors for his dishes. Yet he focuses on incorporating local and seasonal products, mentioning as he does that he presented a stuffed ham, his interpretation of a dish that is well-known in St. Mary's County, Maryland.
He also admits to pouring over cookbooks and food publications for further inspiration. "I read cookbooks nonstop," he said. "I also have a diverse staff, with some from Egypt, West Africa. So almost all the dishes evolve from these guys."
Despite his work schedule, Raymond does take time to relax with the family. He not only cooks with his kids, but also he and his wife have a weekly Champagne Sunday, when he cooks for his family's dinnertime.
What is your comfort food?
I eat almost every night salad and a piece of fish. I love rockfish. I love making pasta, both flat noodles and stuffed pastas.
What's in your fridge?
Apples, Greek yogurt, Sriracha sauce, cornichons, corn tortillas, leftover pork shoulder and champagne.
What has been your luckiest moment?
I was in a place I didn't like, and friend called me about this job. He said, "Come and talk to them." So I did. I met the general manager and the food and beverage director. I have been here 8 years.
What is your essential ingredient?
Stock (veal and chicken), several reductions and fresh herbs. I use a ton of them.
What would you do with a year off?
I would hike the Appalachian Trail with my son. I would cook over an open fire all year.
Note: This is a gluten-free dessert.
Serves 4 to 6
12 ounces chocolate (55% to 66%)
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup silver rum, not barrel-aged, such as Bacardi Silver
1/2-pound butter (2 sticks) plus more for the pans
1 egg white
2 tablespoons rice flour
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom with a parchment round and butter the paper.
Put the chocolate into a mixing bowl and warm it over a double boiler with simmering water. Put rum and 1 cup of the sugar into a small saucepot. Bring to a boil, remove from the heat, and carefully light the alcohol with a match. Return to cook over a low heat, and let the alcohol burn off for 2 minutes.
Pour the hot syrup directly into the chocolate and stir with a spatula until smooth. Stir in the butter slowly, until all is incorporated. Add rice flour and stir. Whisk eggs, egg white and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a separate bowl until lightly thickened; do not overbeat. Add the eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until incorporated. Pour chocolate into pan. Put pan into a larger cake round or rectangle pan and fill with hot water until the pans just begin to float or the water is two-thirds to the top of the cake pan.
Bake for exactly 35 minutes. Remove from the water bath and let cool 10 minutes. Invert onto a plate. Remove the paper gently. You may have to run a paring knife around the pan to get it to release. Be patient. If you flip the pan and the cake does not come out just walk away for about 5 minutes and let gravity do its job. Serve at room temperature.