Chef James Duke
4021 Campbell Avenue
Village of Shirlington
By Chester Simpson
When did you first become interested in cooking and what made you choose a culinary career?
I first became interested in cooking when I was 21. I was working on my Bachelor of Science in psychology and losing patience. To support myself during college I was working at The Carlyle here in Shirlington serving tables and enjoyed working at the restaurant more than my studies. I discovered then that my passion was in hospitality. After consulting with my *mother – a 30 year veteran in the restaurant industry – she told me that if I was going to be serious about this career I would need to learn about food. Within a year I was enrolled in L’acadamie de Cuisine.
Who/what are/have been your biggest inspirations?
I draw inspiration for my work from everywhere. On a day to day basis it has typically been the people that I work with. Talking about food and getting excited about new ingredients and techniques pushes me to move forward. I read and watch documentaries about the culture of the grand tables in Europe and try to tap in on their dedication and drive towards excellence.
What dish on your menu are you most curious to see how it is received by your guests?
I am always curious to know if people are enjoying my spaghetti squash dish. It has the most delicate balance of flavors. The dish is built to order with grilled ramps, roasted peppers, oven dried tomatoes, white wine, garlic, Grana and baby basil. It is a hot vegetarian entrée and I want to make sure that the highlight of my guest’s meal is exquisite. I taste it all the time and I trust my cooks to execute this dish on a daily basis.
What steps do you take to insure that the quality of your food is of a high standard?
I am constantly tasting sauces garnishments and auditing my product. I believe in starting with the best ingredients and that means putting pressure on my distributors. Considering the volume that our restaurant does it is impossible for me alone to manage. Everyone in the restaurant has eyes on quality, from the dining room managers to the servers to the sous chefs. I create weekly focuses and communicate them constantly to my staff.
If any chef if the world was willing to prepare a meal for you, who would you like it to be?
That is a difficult question right now because there are so many chefs that I have respect for. I would say that Ferran Adria – one of the pioneers of modern cooking – would be my choice. His style, technique and flavor combinations in the late 90s are still considered avant guarde today.
What is your guilty food pleasure?
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*We couldn’t pass up this opportunity to tell our readers who James’ (we know him as Jamie) mother is. Our longtime friend, Susan Duke Hergenrather, has been keeping the Landini’s in line for over 30 years as she keeps the bar running smoothly here in Old Town!