Chef to Chef: Jason and Walter

Jason Alley, chef/owner of Comfort, and Walter Bundy, longtime chef at Lemaire, get together over dim sum to discuss duck tongue, pickle chicken sandwiches, visiting superstars, and new restaurant plans.

The concept of Chef to Chef is simple: two local chefs (uh, obviously) meet up to to get acquainted, talk shop, and answer a few questions posed by the lovely Genevelyn Steele. Typically they meet at Morton’s The Steakhouse, but tricky schedules put them at Full Kee for this round. They’ll be back at Morton’s next time.

A couple weeks ago Jason Alley, chef/owner of Comfort, and Walter Bundy, longtime chef at Lemaire, got together over dim sum at Full Kee to discuss duck tongue, pickle chicken sandwiches, visiting superstars, and new restaurant plans.

Walter: I don’t get to come here much, I’ve got two little kids. How about [we order] the duck tongue?

Jason: You’ve had it?

Walter: Not here, we used to serve it at the French Laundry.

I don’t have to ask a thing. Both chefs have a lot on the calendar and though good friends, they haven’t seen each other in a little bit. They get to catching up. Jason is fixated on developing ideas for his new restaurant, Pasture, in the old Montaldo’s building on Grace Street.

Jason: The building is a historical building, 4,000 square feet and it will be something new for me. If I see another crooked neck squash I’m going to kill myself. Not that I don’t love my food [at Comfort] but I like creative growth. Pasture will be small plates, still Southern, more composed, but we’ll also have house-ground burgers. I’m working with Bill Chapman, as a consultant. Bill managed Europa, Havana 59, and has an on-line development group. It’s a historical building, and I’m working within the boundaries of a historic space.

I like to see a mission statement. I like to know what a restaurant is going for. Like, I love Julia’s new place [Secco]. It’s awesome. You walk in there and you know what’s going on. On the flip side of that, you know exactly what you’re getting into at Sidewalk too.

Walter: If you bend to everyone’s whim, you lose your identity. It’s all been done before — choose your path and stick to it. I’ve always hunted and farmed. The Bundy Farms [listed on the menu at Lemaire] started in my yard and moved to the parking lot of the hotel. The Bundy Farms ratatouille is on the menu now and the specials are handwritten, stuff from the garden; herbs, kohlrabi, corn, okra will be coming soon.

Next weekend is the Rappahannock Oyster tasting and Virginia Living shoot. I’m excited because my father and family have a place in Deltaville.

Jason: Wednesday [August 4] is going to be a blast. I’ll be in Atlanta for a patron’s dinner with Todd Richards [Rolling Bones BBQ] and Jim Shirley, the host chef and owner of Atlas Oyster House. This dinner is just after the Florida Scallop Festival [in the third week of July].

Genevelyn: I have to ask. Eric Ripert was in town and he visited both of your restaurants within hours. Jason, he went to Comfort twice. Spill.

Jason: I’m good friends with [writer and food stylist] Angie Mosier. She and I are both involved in the Southern Foodways Alliance. Angie is also a photographer for Avec Eric [Ripert’s culinary travelogue on PBS].

Jimmy [Sneed] made a reservation at Mamma ‘Zu, and the crew [of Avec Eric] was like, fuck that, we live in Manhattan, why are we going to eat Italian food in the South?

Walter: Eric Ripert was Jimmy Sneed’s sous chef at Watergate. He dined by himself at the bar [Lemaire] and didn’t get mobbed. We have a mutual DC cooking connection. When he was in town he toured Urbana and went to Surry to visit Edwards [Virginia and “Surryano” ham].

Jason: I think he ate with us before he ate with you. He came back another night and waited for a table.

Genevlyn: David Chang admits to craving Popeyes fried chicken, Anthony Bourdain cravenly desires KFC’s drive-through mac’n’cheese. Do you have a junky food lust?

Walter: Ice cream every night. I also make this pickle chicken sandwich [modeled after] Chick-Fil-A. I soak chicken in pickle juice for three days first. It’s a staff meal. It’s awesome, but I never want to put it on the menu, because that’s all I’d make.

Jason: The McRib and Krystal Burgers

Walter: The McRib, they bring it back every ten years — you missed it.

Jason: I didn’t miss it.

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Genevelyn Steele

Genevelyn Steele mixed her first drink, a “Pink Squirrel”, at age six. Dubbed a natural, she was quickly enlisted to bartend at her parents’ soirees.

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