Jake Addeo, Executive Chef
It really started to hit Chef Jake Addeo when he began to professionally cook – the important influences of the immediate world around him, his neighborhood in Long Island, the towns he visited, and the people in his family’s home kitchen, his mother, father and stepmother. At 13, he set out lobster traps for fun and profit, the industrious youth would get sick of eating his catch when they were too plentiful to give away [he has since learned to source more responsibly -- and to love lobster again!
As an older teen, Addeo spent his summers working in fish houses on Cape Cod; by the time he was enrolled in the Hospitality Management Program at the University of Massachusetts, his father had opened an upscale seafood restaurant on Montauk, at the tip of Long Island, which became his 'work-study' assignment. Preferring restaurant kitchens to hotel work, he followed his first degree with another, in Culinary Arts, at the Culinary Institute of America. From there, he won a scholarship to the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners, a program in Piemonte that provided him with three stages over the course of a year at top restaurants, including Due Spada in Milan. Another year-and-a-half later in Italy, he returned to New York, where he spent fifteen years in three acclaimed Italian kitchens.
Landing by chance at Felidia Restaurant, Addeo served as executive sous chef under Fortunato Nicotra and Lidia Bastianich. "It was a great New York fine dining experience," he recalls. "Twice, with Lidia, I traveled back to Italy to cook at the Vatican." At Esca, a seafood-focused establishment, he worked under Dave Pasternack and Mario Batali. As Chef de Cuisine at Abboccato, the first Italian venture of the Livanos family, he had total creative control of the menu.
Newly married [to a fellow chef] and ready for a change of scene, Addeo accepted a position in Hong Kong at the request of Chef Laurent Tourondel to open BLT Steak and BLT Burger as the executive chef. Returning stateside, this time to Washington, DC, where Addeo's wife was raised. He found himself in the kitchen of the acclaimed Bibiana Osteria and Enoteca, and soon rose to the position of executive chef.
As Addeo's tenure at Bibiana was coming to an end, an intriguing opportunity at Occidental Grill presented itself. "I know the smells of my own kitchen, but I needed to see what was beyond it. My inner-Italy is heaven on earth, but there was more to offer on this particular culinary journey," he says. "And here was a 110-year-old Washington institution, full of history, and ready to take on a new chapter. The legendary restaurant was emerging from a major renovation, and needed its dining program to marry its evolutionary mission."
Addeo is bringing the Occidental Grill forward by studying its past. Digging through the archives, finding old menus that offer ten-cent steaks, boiled vegetables, and soups and salads, he re-imagines the simple hotel fare as great contemporary cuisine. "We're not foaming up everything," he assures us. "We're respecting what was here, and taking inspiration from the past to create dishes a contemporary audience will find intriguing yet satisfying. We’re also resurrecting forgotten items, like the Depression-era Vinegar Pie that one of our long-time waiters remembers from decades ago." Meats are still at the forefront, but Addeo is bringing out their best with expert technique and big vision: lamb ribs are slow cooked overnight; the burger is an impressive blend of short rib and brisket blend; and the lamb shoulder is butterflied and stuffed, “Our kitchen smells of something pleasant, like something you would stop in for, even if only passing by,” says Addeo.
Seafood is a signature, after all fish is in his blood. He's elevated the crab cake, a Mid-Atlantic mainstay, with less mayonnaise and more crab, plus a strong citrusy accent. "We'll only serve crab in season, but we'll stretch that season as long as possible, because of its popularity," Addeo says. They're served with strictly seasonal accompaniments, such as fried baby cauliflower florets with pickled mustard seed dressing in the winter; and spring peas, fiddlehead ferns, and pickled ramps in the spring. The new chef in charge at the Occidental has instituted a daily baking program that produces loaf breads and focaccia, and brings a slice of his own past in Hong Kong with playful choices at the bar. "We're also gently ushering in desserts with a strong sense of place and now," he says, with a smile.
Tastemakers dining at the Occidental Grill will be turning to the graceful simplicity of American cooking, and a few touches – here and there – of Italian cuisine. For the fist time in a longtime, there will be a resurgence of America’s gastronomic excellence, “We will do our best to skirt the noisy food politics of the past and shift to its performative, interpretive future, says Addeo.