Originally published June 3, 2016
Photos by Jeff Martin
Words by Kaylee Dugan
I wasn’t sure what to make of Chef Brad Deboy when I saw his kitchen. The restaurant where he is Chef de Cuisine, Blue Duck Tavern, is a staple in D.C. dining. Opened since 2006, the restaurant has steadily been winning awards ever since (and is nominated for the Upscale Casual Brunch RAMMY this year as well as Rising Culinary Star of the Year), and is known for focusing on farm-to-table dinning before that became more of a buzzword than a promise of quality. Yet, despite the accolades and the years of consistent quality cooking, can you really trust someone who has an Aristotle quote on their fridge door?
“I don’t know all of his stuff,” Brad explains, “But I love the idea of excellence through hardship.”
After assuring me I am not dealing with a philosophy bro (arguably the worst type of bro / also I’m kidding, you guys), we move on to the more interesting aspects of his fridge. Besides quotes, it’s covered with photos of his family and his two pets who are unfortunately not at the house, Ted the dog and Bun the bunny (“When you put them together they’re Ted Bundy,” he delightfully explains).
Brad’s fridge is a little on the sparse side at the moment. On the day we visit him, he’s in the middle of moving, but it’s filled with all of the natural staples. The crisper has a healthy amount of garlic, avocados, and a huge head of lettuce.
The door, on the other hand, is filled with beer and chocolate. Brad, who is wearing a “Defend Beer” t-shirt (he truly is a man after my own heart) explains that he’s a Port City kind of guy, but this week he also happens to have one of 3 Stars Porters. There’s also organic ketchup, Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce (I wholeheartedly approve), Hershey chocolate syrup, and most importantly, D.C.’s very own Sweet Trickling Springs chocolate milk.
The freezer doesn’t hold much besides frozen corn dogs and hot pockets, but Brad’s fridge is actually one of the least interesting things in his kitchen. It’s what’s pickling and fermenting on the counter tops and at the window that really speaks to Brad’s style of cooking.
The best (and by best I mean best named) is the Ta-brad-sco, a play on the classic Tabasco, but there’s also fermented mustard, black garlic, sourdough beans, bread and butter pickles and more.
“We have tons of this stuff at work, you can really eat it on anything,” Brad says, adding, “I make stuff at home that ends up becoming a special at work, sometimes I end up menu writing in a Harris Teetor.”
Brad ferments all of these in huge plastic containers he has to special order on the internet, but on the windowsill, there are two simple bottles of homemade beet and quince vinegar.
“This is all raw good stuff,” says Brad. “It’s all good for you.”
Of course, Brad wasn’t always a pickling and fermenting master. He admits that the first kombucha he every tried to make was a failure, but he’s clearly (or at least it seems like to me) a master now. The few cook books he has feature books on yeast and pickling and he admits his grandmother dabbled with it a little bit, but it was here where he truly developed an understanding of the process.
“I’ve got all kinds of huge cultures coming to fruition,” he says, “These are the kind of things we survived on for 1000 of years.”
As you can probably tell, when it comes to cooking at home, Brad keeps it very simple. Popular dishes are Peruvian chicken, rice and beans, and eggs and avocado. Likewise, when he’s going out, he sticks to neighborhood joints like Kangaroo Boxing Club, Pollo Sabroso, Thip Khao, and more.
“I like holes in the wall,” he explains. “When you have a limited time to go out, it has to feel like a vacation.” His love for Petworth becomes even more obvious when he explains that it reminds him of his hometown, Miami. “I love that I don’t have to leave the neighborhood on my day off,” he says.
Before I leave, he recommends I stop by Union Market to grab some ice cream from Trickling Springs (“Their chocolate ice cream does something to my brain I don’t understand”) and I feel bad for making fun of his Aristotle quote. Brad is exactly the kind of chef I want to be the face of D.C.’s food scene. Anyone who can work at a restaurant like Blue Duck and still spend most of their free time at Pollo Sabroso and KBC is my kind of chef.