Restaurateur Rose Previte goes beyond Georgian food with her newest restaurant, Maydan debuting in Washington DC next week. She’s tapped chefs Gerald Addison and Chris Morgan to translate the food from their travels and give it a wood-fired touch.
“They’ve been on this search for blue fenugreek for weeks,” says restaurateur Rose Previte.
“Many emails. Many calls. Very little results,” says chef Gerald Addison with a chuckle.
As the construction hums along and staff filters in for training for the opening of Maydan, Previte’s newest restaurant readying for soft-opening in Washington DC next week, all her kitchen team can think about is that elusive Georgian spice.
“It’s a completely different species,” says chef Chris Morgan, who is a co-executive chef with Addison at Maydan. “It’s more floral and delicate. It’s really hard to describe. It just tastes like Georgia.”
After a whirlwind trip this summer—from Morocco to Tunisia, Turkey to Lebanon and, of course, Georgia—Previte, Addison and Morgan are bringing all they learned on the road to Maydan, housed in the historic Manhattan Laundry building in the Cardozo neighborhood. Previte is expanding her focus beyond the Georgian food and wine she’s known for at sister restaurant Compass Rose and digging into how old trade routes and cooking techniques connect these regions. Through lessons from grandmas they met along the way, restaurants they stumbled into and everything in between, the team found another common thread.
“In Tunisia, old recipes were almost forgotten. For the women there, they wanted to be French. So we were going to grandmas for recipes because they were getting lost due to political climates and aging trends,” says Previte. “Everywhere we went, there’s been conflict recently.”
Rather than shy away from this, Previte embraces the complexity of the food she’s examining at Maydan. She wants to celebrate food that transcends borders, and it comes through in the name of the restaurant itself.
“The word ‘Maydan’ is rooted in Arabic, but it’s used all over Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Middle East and North Africa,” says Previte. “It’s pronounced differently depending on where you are, but it always means the same thing: public square or gathering place.”
And she’s created just that in the old warehouse that’s now home to Maydan. There’s a central hearth in the middle of the restaurant, which Addison and Morgan are excited to take on. Wooden tables and tea service highlight new Georgian tea makers add even more warmth to the space. They even built a Georgian-style oven, similar to a tandoor, with help from multiple contractors to get it up to code and just like what they saw on their travels. (“There are no health codes in Georgia,” says Previte.)
But as hard as that blue fenugreek is to find, it was surprisingly not difficult for the team to figure out what they wanted to put on their menu. (“We’d be sitting across the table and eating a wonderful meal. It was as simple as one of us saying, ‘This is something special and we need to make this,’” says Morgan.)
Maydan is powered by that wood fire, and out of it comes koobideh, Persian beef skewers and leg of lamb seasoned with their Syrian seven-spice mix. The rest is of the menu is made up of spreads and condiments from tatouka, a green pepper, tomato and garlic spread that Morgan discovered in Morocco, to baba ghanoush and vegetables, like roasted cauliflower with tahini and fatoush. There is one dish that they didn’t glean from anyone on their trip.
They were invited to one of Previte’s Georgian wine distributor’s family event, a 30th wedding anniversary, and suddenly Morgan and Addison were handed some ribeyes.
“We found adjika, a pepper paste, and added fenugreek to marinate the ribeyes,” says Morgan. “Then we just roasted them over the fire, and it ended up being delicious.”
“They were so impressed with what the guys could do over the open fire,” says Previte. “So we added it to the menu. It’s a tribute, and it connects stories to the food.”
Maydan is meant to evoke that communal experience and introduce diners to foods they’ve probably never run into before. It's ambitious, but challenge is what Previte and her team clearly love. Now if only they could get that blue fenugreek.