Words by Kaylee Dugan
Photos by Clarissa Villondo
The outside of a fridge can tell you just as much as the inside. From Aristotle quotes to vintage wine and liquor labels, we’ve seen it all, so I wasn’t surprised to find that Chef Tony Chittum’s fridge was covered with photos of family and friends. That’s pretty par for the course when it comes to these things, but as I spent time with the chef and his wife Dominique, it became clear that this was just one of the many ways their loved ones influence their work in the kitchen. From Chef Chittum’s colleagues to Dominique’s family, their kitchen feels like it was crowd sourced by all the people they love.
And I mean that in the best way.
After growing up on Kent Island, Chef Chittum moved to San Francisco where he jumped into the culinary field headfirst. After spending some time on the west coast, he came back to the DMV and started working at Equinox in 1999. After bouncing around from Aria Trattoria to Dish to Notti Bianche, he settled down with Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s Vermillion restaurant in 2007, where he stayed until Iron Gate opened in 2013. If you know anything about this website (or the people who run it) you’ll know it’s been one of our favorites ever since. Chef Chittum is also one of the many chef’s participating in this year’s Zoofari (grab your tickets here! It’s gonna be great!) and we cannot wait for another excuse to eat his food.
Walking around Chittum’s house, you can see how Iron Gate’s Greek menu is inspired by his wife, Dominique, whose family is still living in Greece. The couple go at least once a year to visit and stock up on some pantry staples. On the counter there are capers they routinely sneak out of the country, as well as wild chamomile, oregano, and fennel. Some of these will make it into the Iron Gate house rub, but the Chittum’s also use the capers for a variety of meals at home. “Capers are an island thing,” Dominique explains as she talks about making sauces (to put on salads) and using them in pasta puttanesca. While Chef Chittum heads up the kitchen at work, his wife cooks more often when they’re a home. One of her specialties is her bolognese sauce, made with cinnamon, allspice, and oregano.
Of course, Chef Chittum’s background is represented as well. When I spy a tin of Old Bay in the cabinets, the chef starts to talk to me about steaming crabs and growing up on the eastern shore.
Finally, we dig into the fridge. It’s the week after Easter and the first thing to catch my eye is a big bowl of eggs, half of them brown, half of them died a bright pink. The Chittum’s explain to me that they always have eggs, milk, vegetables and fruit in the house, with Dominique adding, “We get everything from Trader Joe’s.”
There is a plentiful amount of cheese and bread (our favorite kind of food), as well as chicken, ground beef, and a beautiful tower of La Croix. Moving on to the freezer, we hit the booze jackpot. There are a bunch of Greek liquors I cannot even begin to identify nestled around some strawberry coconut ice cream. I pull out a bottle of the Italian brandy, Tuaca, and the chef feigns embarrassment, saying, “Now everyone is going to know about my Tuaca!”
That prompts us to leave the kitchen and explore their well curated bar cart. They usually drink wine and whiskey while at home, but Dominique enjoys a good Negroni, saying, “I’ve been a fan of Negroni’s since before they were trendy.” She prefers them with Bombay Dry Gin. On the way, we pass a bright red vintage espresso machine, and even though I don’t drink coffee, I’ve never wanted to steal anything more.
Chef Chittum is a fan of Redemption Rye, but he also has a bottle of D.C.’s very own Joseph A. Magnus & Co.’s bourbon, as well as some Greek tsipouro, and ouzo (which prompts Dominique to explain that you have to drink ouzo the right way to enjoy it. Considering the only time I’ve had it was mixed in a jello-shot at an ill fated house party, I concur). There’s also a hand painted bottle of Koniaros (an ancient variety of wine) that was a gift from a friend. On the bar cart there’s a black and white photo of Dominique’s father, who actually grew up on Capitol Hill before moving back to Greece.
After admiring some paintings of Chef Chittum and his son, made by one of D.C.’s favorite artists, Kelly Towels (the two went to high school together and have been friends ever since), we head into the backyard to take a look at the Chittum’s garden. “We’re getting into tomato season,” the chef explains, which is why his garden is filled with tomato plants, as well as basil, bell peppers and cucumbers. The dogs, Theory and Zuzu (which means little bug in Greek) join us. It’s a perfect afternoon. I can absolutely understand why Chef Chittum’s work is so influence by his family. When you have such a right culinary history to draw from, why wouldn’t you?