Best New Chef 2006 Cathal Armstrong
Best New Chef 2006 Cathal Armstrong

Cathal Armstrong

F&W Star Chef » See All F&W Chef Superstars Cathal Armstrong’s first kitchen job was extremely inauspicious. While studying computer programming at a university in Dublin, he washed dishes at a local pizzeria on the side. But when a cook fell ill, Armstrong stepped into the kitchen to help. He never left. At the age of 19, emboldened by his time at the pie shop, Armstrong tried his hand at opening his own fine-dining French restaurant, The Baytree, outside Dublin. “I did everything that you should not do in the restaurant business,” he says of the learning experience. “After 10 months we decided we’d lost enough money and left the project.” He moved to Washington, DC, in 1990, and worked in pubs and then high-end restaurants throughout the city. In 2004, he broke off to open his own project, Restaurant Eve, in Alexandria, Virginia. Eve was an immediate success and Armstrong, along with his wife, Meshelle, quickly expanded their holdings to include a fish and chips shop, Eamonn’s, and a speakeasy, PX, in 2006, the same year he was named a Food & Wine Best New Chef. In 2007 the Armstrongs took over operations of an Alexandria institution, The Majestic, and followed that up with the gastropub Virtue in 2011, and the food retail palace Society Fair in 2012. A second location of Eamonn’s opened in August 2012, in nearby Arlington, Virginia. Armstrong took a breather with Food & Wine to discuss caviar, mustard and heirloom cattle. What recipe are you most famous for? Probably the pork belly we serve at Restaurant Eve. It was inspired by what my mother called “boiling bacon”—it was basically pure pork belly that was boiled rather than pan-fried. We brine the belly for seven days and then we braise it until it’s tender and then crisp it up in a pan. The accompaniments change fairly often, but the pork belly is a staple on the menu. What two dishes really tell us your story as a chef? Sweetbreads are certainly one of my most favorite things to cook. It used to be that they were only available from the butcher one day a week, when the animals were slaughtered. Since you couldn’t get them every day, they were often preserved, but I learned to work with them raw. I lightly dust them with flour and pan-fry them almost like fried chicken. When you prepare sweetbreads that way, they have a very elegant flavor, with a crispy exterior and a pillowy, creamy interior that is luscious and rich. There’s another dish that has been on the menu since we opened, which I call OOO—that refers to onions, oysters and osetra. It’s a puff pastry with creamed cipollini onions, a poached oyster and osetra caviar. It is an open homage to one of the best dishes I have ever tasted in my life, Thomas Keller’s Oysters and Pearls at The French Laundry. But it also speaks to the type of food that I like: It has the richness of the cream, the brine of the oyster and the saltiness of the caviar. There’s a lot of contrast of flavors and textures in there, which to me is very exciting. What is your favorite cookbook of all time?Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child, has to be very high on the list. I think that book is indispensable, not necessarily for the recipes, but for the techniques and the way it communicates the importance of rules and discipline in food. Another inspiring one is Le Repertoire de la Cuisine, which is from the early 20th century, but it’s still very relevant today—it helps you understand the natural affinities in food. What is one cooking technique that everyone should know? How to make a good sauce. The art of sauce-making separates good food from great food. It even separates great food from extraordinary food. What is your secret-weapon ingredient? Dijon mustard, no doubt about it. In addition to the fact that it improves any sauce you can think of, it is also an important liaison in in a good vinaigrette. We use it to make a really awesome steak sauce that we call liquid gold: a splash of chicken stock, a little butter and chives, and Dijon mustard. What ingredient will people be talking about in five years? If I had my way, it would be the Randall Lineback. It’s a species of cattle that we buy at the restaurant, an ancient breed that was brought to America about 400 years ago. The meat is very lean. The gentleman we buy from has recovered the herd to 350 head. What is your current food obsession? I enjoy eating sausage all the time, from things like saucisson and liver sausage to breakfast sausage, kielbasa and bratwurst. I love the texture, flavor and versatility of sausage. You take a pork shoulder and depending on what ingredients you add to it you can make interesting things that are so, so different from each other. What is your favorite food letter of the alphabet? Probably C. I love ethnic food in general, and I when I was a youngster I learned how to make garam masala. It’s an Indian spice that’s kind of like curry, but better. What helps me remember the ingredients is that everything that goes into it starts with a C: cumin, coriander, cardamom, chiles…2006 Best New Chef Bio Why he won Because he cares so much about ingredients that he spends his days off working at his favorite farm. Born Dublin, Ireland; 1969. Experience New Heights, Gabriel, Vidalia and Bistro Bis, all in Washington, DC. Why he became a chef "I was in college in Dublin studying computer programming—BASIC and COBOL, which were archaic computer languages even when I was in school. Some friends opened up a restaurant, Da Vincenzo. I started washing dishes, then I became a waiter, then one of the guys in the kitchen was sick and I filled in." Biggest inspiration David Lankford, owner of Davon Crest farm in Trappe, Maryland. "He's so excited about farming. When I'm down, David is like my Santa Claus." Favorite thing about Old Town Alexandria "The people here have adventurous palates. Once we bought 10 pounds of sardines and sold them as a special; in 20 minutes they were gone. I couldn't give them away in downtown DC."
This dish is a post-workout go-to for Cathal Armstrong, chef at Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Virginia: He preps the ingredients in advance so that when he gets home from the gym, he can quickly make the sauce while the pasta is boiling. Armstrong likes the pasta with asparagus, spinach and bell pepper but says any vegetables will do. Slideshow:  More Pasta Recipes  Recipe from Food & Wine Chefs' Easy Weeknight Dinners. 
Advertisement
 The zesty dressing for these crisp snapper fillets adds funky depth and a pop of acidity. Slideshow:  More Seafood Recipes 
Chef Cathal Armstrong packs this deeply flavorful, very spicy curry with tender pork and tofu and tops it with crispy garlic. Slideshow: Pork Tenderloin Recipes 
Cathal's Favorite Salad
Rating: Unrated
New!
Virginia chef Cathal Armstrong makes his favorite salad with a combination of avocado, beets, eggs, pumpkin seeds and greens in a deliciously mustardy dressing. Slideshow: More Vegetarian Recipes 
Chef Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Virginia, ate fish every Friday when he was growing up Catholic in Dublin. He has since reinterpreted dishes his parents prepared. This particular recipe is supereasy: He pan-fries whole branzino, bones and all, which helps keep the fish moist while crisping the skin. Recipe from Food & Wine Chefs' Easy Weeknight Dinners
Tangy Chicken Adobo
Rating: Unrated
New!
“My wife, Meshelle, is Filipino, and her grandma is always cooking food for us,” says Cathal Armstrong, chef at Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Virginia. His version of this quintessential Filipino dish is extra-tangy thanks to the generous amount of cider vinegar. To ensure that all the chicken pieces finish cooking at the same time, halve each breast and separate the wings from the drumettes. Slideshow:  More Chicken Recipes  Recipe from Food & Wine Chefs' Easy Weeknight Dinners
Chickpea Vegetable Stew
Rating: Unrated
New!
"The dish is rich in texture and full of healthy goodness," chef Cathal Armstrong says about this hearty vegetable stew. Armstrong adds heft to the coconut milk broth with quick-cooking fingerling potatoes, and subtle heat with harissa, a Tunisian chile paste. Slideshow:  More Hearty Stew RecipesRecipe from Food & Wine Chefs' Easy Weeknight Dinners
Advertisement
This incredibly speedy recipe is from chef Cathal Armstong’s wonderful cookbook, My Irish Table. The mussels are steamed in butter and lemon juice with shallots and bay leaves, forming a flavorful broth. Be sure to serve them with crusty bread. Slideshow:  Mussels Recipes 
Slow-Roasted Tomatoes
Rating: Unrated
New!
This dish is outstanding because it can be made with less-than-perfect tomatoes. More Tomato Dishes
Chickpea Vegetable Stew
Rating: Unrated
New!
"The dish is rich in texture and full of healthy goodness," chef Cathal Armstrong says about this hearty vegetable stew. Armstrong adds heft to the coconut milk broth with quick-cooking fingerling potatoes, and subtle heat with harissa, a Tunisian chile paste. Slideshow:  More Hearty Stew RecipesRecipe from Food & Wine Chefs' Easy Weeknight Dinners
This incredibly speedy recipe is from chef Cathal Armstong’s wonderful cookbook, My Irish Table. The mussels are steamed in butter and lemon juice with shallots and bay leaves, forming a flavorful broth. Be sure to serve them with crusty bread. Slideshow:  Mussels Recipes 
Slow-Roasted Tomatoes
Rating: Unrated
New!
This dish is outstanding because it can be made with less-than-perfect tomatoes. More Tomato Dishes
Cathal Armstrong's family always celebrated the end of Lent with lamb, and preparing the meal became an all-day event that left the adults "snoring on the couch." Cathal's preparation for lamb nowadays isn't exhausting at all: He rubs the loins with herbs, garlic and shallots, then ties them up, sears them and finishes them in the oven. The result is succulent, delicately flavored meat. More Lamb Recipes
Puff Pastry Apple Pie
Rating: Unrated
2
Cathal Armstrong tells of how a family friend came over for lunch one day and marveled at the apple pie his mother, Angela, had made. When her husband, Gerry, asserted that it must have been the apples he grew that made the pie taste so good, the friend said, "Angela, you tell him pastry like that doesn't grow on trees." Since puff pastry can be tricky to prepare, this version of Angela's pie uses a high-quality, store-bought puff pastry. More Pie and Tart Recipes
Advertisement
This one-skillet recipe is based on a dish Cathal Armstrong's father, Gerry, made when Armstrong was growing up in Dublin, with a big difference. "We only got fresh corn for our birthdays. Otherwise it was frozen." More Great Chicken Recipes
Cathal Armstrong loves salmon, especially because he grew up eating it on special occasions. He likes to pan-fry the fish fillets, then top them with an intense citrus vinaigrette made from a combination of fresh orange, lemon and lime juices. More Salmon Recipes
Lobster and Fennel Salad
Rating: Unrated
New!
When Cathal Armstrong was a child, his family bought all their fish on Fridays from "the ladies on the pier" in Dun Laoghaire. On Saturdays, if they were lucky, the Armstrongs would have lobster for lunch. In this salad, Cathal combines the sweet lobster with fresh fennel. His tip: Soak the sliced fennel in icy lemon water before serving to make the pieces extra-crisp. More Salads with Seafood
Irish Brown Bread
Rating: Unrated
8
Even though this bread is dense, hearty and complex-tasting, it requires no yeast and therefore no rising time. Cathal Armstrong says he likes it best "fresh from the oven and with lots of Kerrygold butter." More Bread and Biscuit Recipes
Bouillabaisse
Rating: Unrated
2
When Cathal Armstrong was growing up in Ireland, his father (a travel agent and avid cook) made all kinds of Spanish and French dishes, including a great bouillabaisse. Now Armstrong serves his own phenomenal bouillabaisse, packed with shrimp, mussels, clams and monkfish. When he began offering the dish at Restaurant Eve, one of the first customers to order it was his mother, who was visiting from Ireland. She loved it, Armstrong reports, adding wryly, "Why wouldn't she? She's my mother." More French Recipes
At his Eamonn's a Dublin Chipper, Dublin-born Cathal Armstrong (an F&W Best New Chef 2006) brings the fish-and-chips tradition to Alexandria, Virginia. Armstrong serves two types of fish, plus fries and a host of sauces, like the one below. More Fast Fish Recipes