Master's of Cuisine, Wining & Dining

Meet Chef Erica Cooper!

Chef Cooper serving (L to R) Summer Bruschetta, Pasta Primavera, and Chipotle Glazed Saint Louis Ribs. Photo © Chester Simpson
Chef Cooper serving (L to R) Summer Bruschetta, Pasta Primavera, and Chipotle Glazed Saint Louis Ribs. Photo © Chester Simpson

Chef Erica Cooper
Public House
199 Fleet Street
National Harbor, MD

About the Chef:
My education started out Math and Science based at the University of Maryland and I have always had a very analytical approach to cooking. Being in the kitchen is like being in a laboratory and that’s where my career started. It’s always about balance; sweet, salty, savory, bitter. When all of the flavors harmonize, you can’t taste one thing but the sum of its parts are perfect.

After I graduated from UMCP, I spent time as a project manager learning the business side of things and after five years I finally quit the business world to pursue my dreams of becoming a chef at the Art Institute of Philadelphia. I have spent the majority of my career at the casual upscale dining Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant in the Delaware/Pennsylvania region and learned a great deal about cooking there. Additionally, I was the Executive Chef of a fast-growing Santa Fe Restaurant Group in Wilmington, DE that serves high end Mexican cuisine.

When did you first become interested in cooking and why did you decide to pursue a culinary career?
I have always been customer service oriented from when I was a small child and I enjoy watching people enjoy food. These two things together have led me down this path. I decided to pursue a culinary career when I was in high school but decided to get a full bachelors degree first to get a little more experience in the business and cultural side of the industry.

I am a person that enjoys immediate gratification and quick deadlines. I don’t have two weeks to get this right, I have two minutes! When you know that you have made the perfect pan seared swordfish or the perfect medium rare burger there is satisfaction in that.

Who have been the biggest inspirations for your career?
I am most inspired by home cooks – I love to cook low and slow. Building flavors together and maximizing their potential is what it’s all about. I love to see how people receive the food and this is usually attained in the more familiar atmospheres. You can always tell when a dish is made with love!

What dish on the Public House menu are you most curious to see how it’s received?
Our new Tuesday Daily Supper is Chicken and Waffles. We have our own twist on it and it is served with a touch of coffee and cocoa in the waffles, on the side is whipped orange-vanilla ginger butter, bourbon syrup and a buttermilk fried chicken breast. It’s southern comfort food at its best. Make sure to make a reservation because it’s already pretty popular.

What do you do to insure that the quality of the food going out to customers is up to par?
We have very stringent requirements on the quality and appearance of our food. We take a great deal of time to insure that each plate that goes to the guest is consistent and when they come back the next time it is exactly the same!! We taste the food constantly and ask for feedback. We love to make new items so the most popular specials usually end up on the menu!

If any chef in the world could prepare you a meal, who would it, be?
I love to cook around the equator, all of the hotter regions of the world love to use spices and chiles that make you sweat!! I would love to have a meal prepared by Rick Bayless. He has had a profound influence on changing the way that we view Mexican food. He has a very upscale, authentic approach to Mexican food.

What’s your guilty food pleasure?
There is nothing better and more satisfying than a loaded baked potato. It can be made with anything in the world and is a meal in one!

Preparing Pasta Primavera. Photo © Chester Simpson
Preparing Pasta Primavera. Photo © Chester Simpson

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