Feasting Famously: Cedric Maupillier

Apparently there were almost 50 new restaurants that opened in DC this past summer. Some are good; others, good luck; and the ones who stand out do so in a big way. However since early 2012, one restaurant has been sustaining crowds, consistently serving the same high-quality food night after night, and has refused to compromise the integrity of their initial mission. The restaurant is Mintwood Place, the Executive Chef and owner is Cedric Maupillier, and the food is consistently well above average.

Much of Mintwood’s success, in addition to the great staff, and managers, is Chef Cedric himself. Already starting with a strong background in culinary education, he earned his “DC-wings” so-to-speak under world renowned Chef Michel Richard.

Now that he has his own place, and two years later it’s more than surviving – it’s thriving – FamousDC wanted to provide some more insight into Chef Cedric himself.

Chef Cedric got started at a young age in the culinary world, but not for the love of food, initially at least. At age 15 he started working in a bakery, “during the weekend and [on] vacation that year to buy my first moped,” he says.

Sounds about right: bake some pastries to get a moped. I can follow that logic.

However don’t be dissuaded, Chef Cedric has always loved food and cooking, and he did indeed inherit that honestly. “I always felt the love from the cooking in my family.  At first, for me, cooking was a necessity to keep me busy and challenged. It was more a game than a work. It became a passion gradually while understanding the process of creating a dish,” the Chef says.

Of course, a love for cooking isn’t enough in this business. Chef Cedric sharpened his knife in DC under Michel Richard, Executive Chef and owner of Citronelle (hopefully reopening soon) and Central, his more affordable restaurant in downtown DC.

Michel Richard is a powerhouse in the food world, and working for Michel must have been amazing, yet I would imagine challenging. “Michel was a demanding teacher,” Chef Cedric notes, “he allowed me in his creative world. He challenged me; offer[ing] me invaluable opportunities, like developing and opening Central’s concept.” A concept which, despite the departure of Chef Cedric, continues to do just fine.

Yet at some point all great Chefs want more than control over the concept, they want to develop and create their own concept, and see that vision come to reality. So after three years at Central, Chef Cedric decided to move on and do just that.

“Central was cruising and I felt I needed to work harder on my own,” he states. “I needed to be more involved in a restaurant operation. I felt the desire of ownership. Mintwood Place happened to be exactly offering me that, control and freedom with the potential of expansion.”

The experience he learned at Central certainly stuck, and I am sure Michel Richard is very proud. Mintwood received glowing reviews from food critics – locally and nationally – as well as from the larger food and service industry. The restaurant was a semi-finalist in the prestigious James Beard Foundation annual awards for best new restaurant Mid-Atlantic, and the Chef was also a semi-finalist in the same region for best new Chef. They clinched the gold when Food & Wine Magazine named them as the Mid-Atlantic regional winner, and the Chef took note.

“It is extremely flattering as it was The People Choice Award from Food&Wine,” he says. “I have to thank my family, friends, patron and coworker who voted and promoted my name.” And his peers, “As for my DC fellow competitors, they already win in my book, from their professional level of execution had force me to stay in the mix.”

However for someone who kills it in the kitchen at work, he does not cook often at home. Yet when he does, Chef Cedric likes, “I like cooking a good cassoulet when the weather get chilled,” – I’m waiting for my invite!

But if you want to have him over for his favorite dish, think again. He says, “[My favorite thing to eat “will have to be a ‘true’ Bouillabaisse made from my dad, from the fishing to the cooking.” Can’t top that!

But when he is feeling homesick, despite his considering DC his home for now, he heads to some of my personal favorites in town, “Bistro du Coin, Le Diplomate, La Chaumiere, Et Voila or Montmartre.” His favorite DC places to lunch also read like a Best Of list including, “Central, Et Voila, DGS, Casa Luca, Bibiana, Amsterdam Falafal, and Stachowski.”

Despite his success however, like any home cook or seasoned Chef alike, he has never lost his sense of humor or his humility. I asked Chef Cedric to recount some of his biggest kitchen disasters.

“I had my share of blunders,” he began, “but the first that come to mind happen while I was working at the three stared restaurant La Cote St Jacques in Burgundy for Jean-Michel Lorrain. Three times a weeks we were receiving fresh seafood from Brittany. Wild Atlantic Sea Bass called Bar, the size of a large salmon was a rare and expensive fish. It always arrived firmly bend, with sparkling eyes and shiny scales, like it was still alive. Just beautiful. We served it lightly smoked, steamed with a sevruge caviar sauce. A signature dish for many, many years. I was new and was ask if I could smoke the fish. ‘Of course!’ I clean, fillet the fish, and brought it into the smoker, put paper and wood, light it and close the smoker.

“Ready to enjoy a lunch break with the rest of the brigade in the adjacent room, when suddenly, some heavy smoke disturbed my Chef… He asks me if I didn’t put too much wood inside the smoker as it could be too hot when I’LL PUT THE FISH IN!!!! I ran out; wide open the smoker just to witness my first BBQ experience… Few months ago Jean-Michel came to visit me at Mintwood Place, we laugh about it, but then, it took me few long months before I could lift my eyes to him.”

(Pretty sure I’d pass out if I ever saw Jean-Michel, let alone cooked for him!)

I asked who would be his dream guest at a dinner party and what would he make them?

“Jesus,” he said, and “we will be breaking bread with some butter and cheese. If Buddha, Krishna and Muhammad could join, it will be even better.”

He jokingly says he does follow “DC celebrity chefs” but “most of them on twitter, never on the road…”

Good to know he’s not a stalker. Plus I think Chef Spike’s Ferrari could out run him! Staying humorous, I ask if he is ordering breakfast or lunch items for brunch. He replies, “I order brunch items!”

Laughs aside, let’s test Chef Cedric’s wit with the Feasting Famously Fast Five rapid fire questions:

14th Street : Working girls
Duck: Pink
The Obama’s: Mintwood Place
Pepper : Black
Calf Liver: Heart

Well there’s no doubting his own heart. Chef Cedric is a passionate Chef and a devoted restaurant owner. His duck is some of the best I’ve had in DC, and he serves pork rinds – FRIED PORK FAT AND SKIN PEOPLE!! Are you hearing me?!? If this isn’t reason alone for you to head to Mintwood Place, I give up on humanity.

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