Master's of Cuisine, Wining & Dining

Chef’s Special – Chef Caroline Ross

Chef Caroline Ross at River Bend Bistro. © Chester Simpson
Chef Caroline Ross at River Bend Bistro. © Chester Simpson

River Bend Bistro & Wine Bar
7966 Fort Hunt Road
Alexandria, VA

River Bend Bistro & Wine Bar is located in the Hollin Hall Shopping Center in the Fort Hunt Section of Fairfax County.  Chef Caroline Ross and her husband Bill Ross opened River Bend just over a year ago, with the desire to bring casual fine dining to their neighborhood and have a comfortable atmosphere for all to enjoy. Chef Caroline brings more than 30 years experience in food and wine to their Bistro, with an emphasis on local fresh ingredients, prepared from scratch, right down to the Tater Tots.

When did you first become interested in cooking? Why did you decide to pursue a culinary career?
I’ve always been interested in cooking, both of my parents are excellent cooks and after school I would come home and watch Julia Child on The French Chef with my mom. Sometimes we tried to make what had been on that day’s show, funny, it didn’t take Julia 5 hours to put together a Coulibiac of Salmon!  We ate pretty late that night! My first restaurant job was at Portner’s when Wendy Albert was the chef, I was the cashier and when the kitchen got slammed she would make me come down from the office to help with salads. I really enjoyed being in the kitchen, it was fun and hectic and Wendy was a great teacher. She encouraged me to work at different restaurants and I went to work at Le Chardon d’Or and worked with Jim Papovich, when I was working with him I applied for a scholarship from Les Dames d’Escoffier and with that was able to cobble together enough money to go to culinary school in Paris.  It took many years and many great teachers to hone my skills, I think I have it down now.

Who have been the biggest inspirations for your career?
I learned so much from my parents, they cook in totally different styles. My dad learned from his mother and my mom taught herself how to cook, so I learned to clean fish, butcher meat and cook instinctively from him and from my mom I learned rules, especially in pastry.  I have worked with some great chefs in my career, from Wendy Albert, Jim Papovich, Mike Soper, all the crazy Italians too numerous to name and Jeff Buben. Both Wendy and Jeff not only taught me things in the kitchen, but more importantly the business of the restaurant business and how to be successful. As many of us did, I worked for Ralph Capobianco on 3 different occasions, he was always a great supporter and teacher.

What dish on your menu are you most curious to see how it’s received?
On our fall menu my favorite dish is the Pan Roasted Veal Sweetbreads with Oysters Poached in a Sherry Sauce. This is a riff on a dish my dad would make on special occasions. And, I’ll never stopped being surprised at how many Liverwurst Sandwiches we sell at lunch.

What do you do to insure the quality of the food going out to customers is of high standards?
I have a very close relationship with my purveyors, they know that if a product comes in that isn’t up to my standards it is going right back. So if I’m out of an item on the menu, that’s fine.  I won’t sell anything that I wouldn’t eat myself. I also shop at the Farmer’s Market at Sherwood Library and St. Luke’s every week. It is so important to have a good relationship with the farmers who are in tune with the season and know what is best this week.

If any chef in the world could prepare you a meal, who would it, be?
I would love to have dinner with Jacques Pepin. He is a wonderful teacher and makes everything look so easy.  If money were no object I would sit down at Sukiyabashi Jiro and have Jiro Ono make sushi for me in the Toyko subway.

What’s your guilty food pleasure?
Well, not really a guilty pleasure, but more of a treat is to go to Peking Duck on Richmond Highway. If I get out early enough I’ll run over there for some carry out. The food is delicious and I’ve turned my whole staff into Peking Duck lovers. A true once a year guilty pleasure is a Cheese Steak from Al’s Steak House on Mt. Vernon Avenue in Del Ray. I order a half, eat half and save the other half for the next day.

Preparing the Roast Duck Breast with Caramelized Shallots in an Orange Vinegar Sauce. © Chester Simpson
Preparing the Roast Duck Breast with Caramelized Shallots in an Orange Vinegar Sauce. © Chester Simpson

Written by: Chester Simpson
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