What's Cooking, Neighbor?
SEBASTIEN ARCHAMBAULT, BLUE DUCK TAVERN
Since taking over the top toque position at Blue Duck Tavern in late 2011, executive chef Sebastien Archambault has fine-tuned this venerable West End destination in the Park Hyatt Washington, introducing new pleasures and tweaking time-tested favorites at every turn. From the sweet and savory tea service to the cheese and charcuterie display and the not-to-be-missed menu spotlighting local farms, his eye for detail is evident. This native of the town of Le Bugue in southwestern France, the son of restaurateurs, wants to please everyone. He doesn't miss his mark.
"It's still Americana and farm-to-table, but I put my touch, my twist on it," says Archambault. We were in the airy lounge, the perfect spot for a light lunch, cocktails or a late-night nosh. "I bring more French techniques, more vegetables and salads, all lighter than before." Vegetarians take note. In February, he expanded the breakfast menu, adding housemade low-sugar marmalades and egg-white dishes such as a frittata with potato, charred onion and kale. Keeping pace with the growing interest in all things wheat-free, Blue Duck bakers produce gluten-free scones, muffins and coffee cake, as well as pancakes and waffles. In the first month, nearly 15 percent of the restaurant’s customers chose gluten-free options. "People are so happy to find them," he says.
Glorious, fork-tender suckling pig, slow-roasted for 12 hours, is the top-selling entree. But diners should also consider what the chef calls his "spontaneous menu" of dishes, available when his purveyors surprise him. "Some farmers have just a little of something, say goose eggs or unique game birds," he says. "We can present to one group, one table, a beautiful, unusual fish."
This season, he has partnered with a Maryland farmer who is planting the chef's favored European varieties of greens and legumes and lots of heirloom tomatoes. Tired of root vegetables after a nasty winter, Archambault can't wait to get his hands on the first local morel mushrooms, ramps and rhubarb. As part of the farm project, his kitchen staff works in the fields – "so they will understand to respect the products." That way, he says, "You feel the love on your plate from A to Z."
For a first course or a passed appetizer, one of Archambault's favorite presentations is pissaladière, a French twist on a traditional bruschetta, popular in both Italy and southern France. His recipe calls for piment d'Espelette – a smoky-sweet chili powder from France made with mild red peppers (available at Dean & DeLuca). A pinch of red chili pepper flakes may be substituted. But flavor-wise, he says, "It's not the same thing."
Ingredients For the Dough
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cold water
1/4 ounce packet dried yeast
1/2 cup olive oil
2 thin thyme stems, chopped
3 teaspoons salt
For the Topping
6 white onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 thyme stems
4 garlic cloves, mashed
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon piment d'Espelette red pepper powder
8 white anchovies
1/2 cup small Niçoise olives, pitted
24 fresh oregano leaves
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in two tablespoons of warm water and let stand for five minutes. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the flour, water and yeast and mix at slow speed for ten minutes. Add the olive oil and thyme and mix for five minutes at medium speed. Add the salt and mix for two minutes at medium speed. Cover with a damp cloth and let rest in a warm spot for two hours. The dough should double in volume.
Heat the oil in a large pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions, thyme, garlic and salt and sauté over medium heat, stirring, until the onions are very soft and golden brown. Then add the red pepper powder.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roll out the dough on a floured surface until 1/4 inch thick and transfer to an oiled sheet pan. Spread the cooked onions evenly over the dough, then add the anchovies, olives and oregano. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on your preference for crunch. Add the cheese, then put back in the oven for two minutes to allow the cheese to melt. Slice and serve with an arugula salad dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.