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Madrecki spent his first four months working the prep station at the buzzy Mediterranean restaurant. “It taught me how to be fast and it taught me how to work very diligently,” he said of the crash course in culinary arts that eventually turned into stints behind the oven, grill, flattop and saute stations.
Madrecki left there wiser, but also hungrier. “I thought I actually had a lot more to learn, but I wanted to go and see other things,” he said of his decision to decamp for Europe.
While he was overseas, the jaw-dropping experiences kept coming. First was a two-month stint at world-renowned Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark. “Rene Redzepi is, to me, one of the most intellectual chefs,” Madrecki said of the invaluable instruction he received there. Next was a layover in France, which included grape picking in the Loire (one of the “quirky” wine regions he champions) and the fortitude culled from proving himself worthy of working the line at Le Chateaubriand.
Chef Inaki Aizpitarte “gave me the confidence to cook from the heart, to be myself in the kitchen,” Madrecki said.
By the time he returned stateside in late 2011, Madrecki knew what he wanted to do. And not even an offer to cover the Hawaiian dining scene for Star Chefs could dissuade him.
“Writing about food ... [or] working in a restaurant full time as a chef de partie wasn’t really what I wanted. I wanted to cook because I love to cook,” Madrecki said.Call Me
The test dinners were, naturally, invite-only.
But instead of targeting the low-hanging fruit — hyperbole-prone bloggers, name-dropping “foodies” — Madrecki sought out tastemakers from all walks of life.
“People that are plugged in to D.C. ... and like nice things in life,” was how he described a guerrilla marketing campaign that’s culminated in a monthslong waiting list and increasingly loyal following.
“Most of the State Department is on my list,” Madrecki said, noting that he’s fed a host of Hillary Rodham Clinton staffers (but not “42” or the recently retired secretary of State). “I’m working on the World Bank,” a Madrecki aide quipped about the next inside-out recruiting effort.
There were no political types to ogle during any of our visits. But those we did encounter were certainly an interesting bunch.
There were thrill seekers: “I just Googled underground dinners,” one supper club virgin said of the path that led him to Madrecki’s humble abode.
Zeitgeist-riding restaurant raiders: “They had me at bacon-marmalade,” one couple gushed about their crush on cheflebrity Bryan Voltaggio’s latest gastro-playground, Range.
And even would-be government watchdogs: “What a twerp,” one guest said of a particularly publicity-hungry House member from California.
The common denominator: a penchant for thought-provoking food.Flavor Rush
Madrecki fancies himself a minimalist — “It’s not about technology or gimmicks. It’s about cooking real food,” he said — but definitely operates in that realm where the alimentary becomes elemental.
He plays with everything from texture to temperature, conjuring salmon seared on a single side (crackling skin gives way to velvety flesh) as well as cucumber-spiked slush ignited by pickled Serrano peppers (yowza!).
Tequila-drenched scallops were bold and beautiful. A light dusting of maple sugar injects sweetness into the mix without stealing the spotlight from the pulse-quickening seafood.