Chef 101 With Tony Chittum of Vermillion

Previous culinary experience — I grew up in Maryland. I cooked in basically my first job. I was a dishwasher at 14. I washed dishes for a couple of years. I then started working local mom-and-pop restaurants around the Annapolis area. Then in ’98 I moved to San Francisco, and I worked at a place called the Elite Café under chef Donald Link. He owns Herbsaint and Cousant down in [New Orleans]. Then I moved back to D.C. and started working for Todd Grey at Equinox right after it opened. I stayed there for five years. I was chef de cuisine when I left. I was at Aria in the Reagan building. I went on to Notti Bianche in Foggy Bottom. And then I came out to Vermillion. I’ve been out here for two years.

When I’m not eating my own food — I’m here all the time, so I tend to eat here. I go out. My girlfriend and I like to go for Thai food, sushi. We keep it pretty simple. I usually just have Sunday off, and we try to go out to dinner or a movie or something. We try to go out for a nice dinner once a month. For my birthday I went to 2941.

Born and raised — I was born in Baltimore County, and when I was 1, I moved to Kent Island [Md.]. I grew up on Kent Island until I was 14 or 15, and then I moved to the Annapolis area.

Food I cannot stand — Bad food. Poorly made food. I like all types of food. Any type of ethnic food I enjoy. Stewed tomatoes — growing up, I hated stewed tomatoes. I’ve tried to like it in my older age. I still don’t like them.

Greatest cooking influence — I would say definitely a combination of Todd Grey [and] Donald Link … I would say my trips to Italy and Greece. I love Mediterranean food — the balance. Todd taught me the seasonality and using local ingredients. Don taught me a lot about Southern food and what it’s like to work in a kitchen every day.

Views on cooking TV shows — I’m entertained by them, some more than others. I like “Iron Chef America.” It’s cool — great concept. I like “Top Chef.” I think “Hell’s Kitchen” — those that are more about the drama than the cooking, I don’t care for them too much.

Strangest cuisine I’ve tried — I’ve tried pho, the Vietnamese soup. I’ve never had anything weird, like eating snake hearts or something like that. I haven’t had that much weird food.

Must-have cooking utensil — A sharp chef’s knife, a fish spatula, and a wooden spoon.

Thoughts on Washington’s food scene — I think it’s great. … I’m 32, and I started cooking in this city when I was 21. In the last 11 years I think this city has blown up. I think we compete with the major food cities in the country. We have every type of food you can want here, done by quality chefs.

Worst kitchen disaster — I spilled ice cream base on Todd Grey my second week working there. … I basically splashed honey ice cream base and drenched him. It wasn’t funny then. It’s funny now. He was very cool about it.

Biggest pet peeve in the kitchen — Messiness. Disorganization.

Three people I’d never want to see in the kitchen — I guess a firefighter would be one. I really don’t know. I like to show my kitchen. A repairman.

Strangest things cooked — Bison testicles. They’re a big thing in West Virginia. They have festivals and everything around them. You soak them in milk, slice them and lightly pan-fry them.
I got them in to try, and I didn’t care for them.

Age — 32

Marital status — I live with my girlfriend.