CityZen | Washington DC
In Iowa, CityZen chef Eric Ziebold grew up with
a mother who followed culinary trends like embracing the microwave
and cooking without salt and under the culinary confines of grueling
training for his high school wrestling team. His restaurant career
began in his early teens, working an after-school job at Café
Maude’s with mentor chef Matt Nichols. It was there in
the Midwest that Ziebold learned the fundamentals of cooking, in
a calm environment, free of the stereotypical kitchen yelling.
After high school Ziebold went to the nearby University
of North Iowa to major in finance but spent more time working at
the restaurant than he did in class. After two years, Ziebold’s
calling was clear. He left for the Culinary Institute of America,
externing at Spago as chef de partie where mentor Nichols
was now the executive chef. After graduation, Ziebold spent time
with the team at Vidalia in DC where he worked as saucier,
poissonier, and chef de partie, before heading west.
In 1996, Ziebold joined Thomas Keller at The
French Laundry, where he climbed to the chef de cuisine position
within three years. Ziebold stayed a total of eight years, during
which he assisted Keller with the opening of Per Se in
New York. While Napa provided invaluable experience with one of
the best chefs in the country, and an insight into American fine
dining, Ziebold missed city life. He returned to DC in 2004 to showcase
his particular style of Modern American. As executive chef at CityZen,
Ziebold’s creations include a Foie Gras Shabu Shabu, in which
foie gras is poached tableside for a French influenced, Asian-inspired
AB: Did you attend culinary
school? Why or why not? Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring
chefs today? Do you only hire chefs with culinary school backgrounds?
EZ: I went to the Culinary
Institute of America. When I get an application the first thing
I look at is where someone worked. The second thing I look at his
how long they worked there. Both questions are important because
you get out what you put in.
AB: What is
your philosophy on food and dining?
EZ: I want to make food that
people can identify with and I want them to find it satisfying.
AB: Are there
any secret ingredients that you especially like? Why?
EZ: Cubeb is a long-tail Indonesian
peppercorn with a kick to it. We use it in sauces instead of black
pepper and it’s great in pastrami.
AB: What flavor
combinations do you favor?
EZ: I like strawberry with
AB: What is
your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
EZ: My palette knife –
I use it instead of tongs for flipping things and it’s great
for molding butters.
AB: Is there
a culinary technique that you have either created or use in an unusual
way? Please describe.
EZ: I make an interesting Shabu
Shabu variation by poaching foie gras tableside. In a sous-vide
variation I cook protein in red wine in Cryovac bags to keep the
AB: What is
your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential
new line cook?
EZ: What is the difference
between pressure and stress? The correct answer is preparation.
AB: What tips
would you offer young chefs just getting started?
EZ: Taste! People don’t
taste enough and it’s a mistake. Cooking is about manipulation.
To understand the final product you must taste throughout; otherwise,
you won’t understand how you got there.
AB: What are
you favorite cookbooks?
Ma Gastronomie, a recipe book, sure, but it’s also a storybook,
and a philosophical glimpse into someone.
AB: What cities
do you like for culinary travel?
EZ: I like Bangkok for its
fruit and ingredients.
AB: What are
your favorite restaurants –off the beaten path—in your
EZ: Pho 75 in Roslyn,
Virginia. They serve a simple Vietnamese noodle soup but a million
different ways with your choice of fatty brisket, tripe, meatballs
do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?
EZ: I plan to keep doing what
I’m doing. I want to help build the restaurant community through
encouraging young chefs and helping them get started.
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