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Best New Chefs

Johnny Monis

2007 Best New Chef Award Profile
Johnny Monis

Why he won Because in a tiny 400-square-foot kitchen, he makes exceptional Greek-inspired food that’s both creative and based on centuries-old traditions.

Born Arlington, VA; 1979.

Experience McCrady’s, Charleston, SC.

How long he lasted as a pre-med major Three years, at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA. “I realized I would eventually go to cooking school.”

How long he lasted at cooking school One year at Johnson & Wales University in Charleston. “I was learning so much more at McCrady’s that I dropped out.”

First kitchen job Working at his parents’ Mediterranean restaurant, La Casa, in Alexandria, VA. “I was excited to do whatever I could to help out. I remember standing on a milk crate because I wasn’t tall enough to reach the sink to wash dishes.”

His age when he opened Komi 24.

How Komi got its name “I used to go to the Greek island of Chios every summer. My parents were born there; my grandmother still lives there. She and my grandfather grew their own vegetables; they made their own olive oil and goat cheese. Komi is the name of a beach on that island.”

Career turning point “I’d love to say there was one, but I knew it all along. I’ve never had a job outside of the kitchen. Ever.”

Pet peeve “I very much dislike when people rip into the plastic wrap covering something—when they make a hole and dig in. It takes seconds to just unwrap something properly. I can’t tell you why, but it has always bothered me. Improper use of plastic wrap, that’s what I call it.”

What keeps him going “I look forward to coming into work every day. I have such a small, close staff. Most nights, it’s just me and three or four other people. I’m very much a part of this place, and I love it.”

Ingredient obsession “We’re using a lot of goat. We go through eight to 10 whole goats a week, and we only have 12 tables. I make them into ragus, I spit-roast them, I cure them to make a kind of prosciutto. The meat is so useful, and it’s largely overlooked in this part of the world.”

Favorite childhood dish The rabbit stew with pearl onions that his grandmother made. “I can’t remember a time when she didn’t have that dish waiting for us when we landed at Chios.”

Favorite kitchen tool A sharp, well-maintained knife. “I love my Misono UX10 and my Shun.”

Fantasy splurge Northern Spain. “My girlfriend and I have the trip planned. It has fabulous restaurants and beautiful beaches—the two most important things for me. It’s really hard to find both in a destination.”

Favorite cheap eat The pizza at his parents’ restaurant. “I love it—right out of the oven, cold or reheated. And I’ve never had to pay for a slice.”

Favorite guilty pleasure Anything salty and crunchy. “Fritos and corn nuts are my favorites.”

Food trend he wishes would go away Food as science, for novelty’s sake. “Innovation is great, as long as one maintains respect for tradition, quality ingredients and seasonality.”

Favorite customer “Anyone who comes in and just asks us to cook for them. That’s a huge compliment.”

Restaurants
Komi
1509 17th St. N.W. Washington, D.C.
202-332-9200
6 recipes by Johnny Monis

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