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D.C.'s Clandestine Dining Destination | Meal Ticket

One man’s recipe for a nontraditional cooking career

Courtesy Tom Madrecki
Madrecki’s supper club features much fancier fare than you’d expect to find in a D.C. apartment. His signature dessert, popcorn ice cream, is inspired by Chicago’s salty-sweet snack mix.

Note to public relations gurus in Washington: There is more to life than putting words in people’s mouths.

Just ask Tom Madrecki.

The UPS communications manager has garnered a cult following via his clandestine Chez Le Commis.com soirees, hush-hush dining experiences that have attracted the likes of D.C.’s hottest chefs, award-winning restaurant critics and a number of high-ranking government officials.

Not bad for a self-taught toque (albeit one with incredible ambition).

A Taste for Adventure

Madrecki wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but he said he’s always appreciated the edible show of affection that is a home-cooked meal.

He shelled peas at his mother’s elbow and pestered his parents for a Little Tikes kitchen set, an indulgence his father flatly opposed (too girly, his dad insisted).

By the time he reached middle school, the allure of gourmet living had him firmly under its spell.

“I really started to pay attention that there’s this world outside of just normal restaurants. It’s not all Pizza Huts and Hardee’s,” he said of the revelation that gave hold to newfound obsessions (French Laundry, the now-defunct elBulli).

That passion would move to the back burner once high school got under way. That’s when Madrecki discovered a talent for bowling (he was all-American good) that helped him roll right through to the University of Virginia. While there, Madrecki pinched his pennies (graduating with less than $10,000 in debt), dabbled in media (as managing editor of the school paper) and made some terrific friends.

Once the four-year party ended, Madrecki looked inward and realized something was missing. So he dove back into thinking about cooking.

And even though he’d logged exactly zero hours in a professional kitchen, Madrecki challenged himself to give it a go.

“People within kitchens think that people outside kitchens are different. That they can’t handle it. Or that they aren’t up to it,” he said of the “macho” mystique that often surrounds commercial cooking.

Bucking the system, at least initially, proved quite challenging. “I’m not that prototypical kid that dropped out of high school and became a chef. I’m a smart, college-educated kid with no tattoos,” Madrecki said of his somewhat-skewed trajectory.

Intent on honing his inherent skills, Madrecki queried “the normal places that you would try and go work”— which in his case meant asking CityZen and Komi to take a chance on a total unknown. Michael Costa, head chef at Zaytinya and a fellow UVA Cavalier, was the first to throw him a lifeline.

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