Congratulations to Ellē, in this year's Washington, D.C. MICHELIN Guide as a Bib Gourmand, sponsored by San Pellegrino! Ellē is a contemporary cafe-bakery with tempting baked goods in the morning, quiches and sandwiches at lunch, and plenty of afternoon sweets. We sat down with executive chef Brad Deboy to talk about how he got into cooking, fermenting, and his favorite breakfast. Deboy is big on fermentation, as diners will see in the kitchen's kimchi, fermented chili hot sauce, fermented mustard, kombucha, and sauerkraut.
How did you decide you wanted to be a chef?
I started working in restaurants when I was 14 or 15, just sweeping floors and trying to learn and do whatever I could to have some spending money for the weekend. Then when I was 18, 19, I was working at a steakhouse in Boca Raton. I'd already been cooking for a few years at that point. One night I was on the meat roast, a station I'd struggled with, and I had a really awesome service. We all got on in unison, everything went out, it was amazing, and I was really excited. I realized, I really enjoy doing this, I feel like I can use the creativity I have towards music and art and put it towards using the plate as a canvas. I really enjoyed the experience of cooking for people, of being able to create on a daily basis things that are very artistic and beautiful and that people can enjoy with all their senses.
What's your favorite dish that you serve at Elle?
Right now, our favorite dish is our Tempeh Burger. We're using a mixture of red quinoa, organic quinoa, as well as some local beans we’re getting from Migrash Farm. We're cooking those beans, incubating them with some tempeh culture and growing that into basically a burger patty shape, searing that in a little bit of oil, and then using a vegan potato roll, a little bit of avocado, and a little bit of fermented cabbage with some chilies and garlic. We also take tofu and make a tofu garlic aioli, so the entire sandwich is completely vegan.
Where did you find your passion for fermentation?
I had a catastrophic illness and I still do. It’s a neurological auto-immune disorder or disease called GBS or Guillain-Barré syndrome. I was like, well, maybe there’s something I can do to help heal faster, you know, so I can walk again. So I did a lot of research into immune-system-building and health, and I got into eating yogurt and drinking kombucha. I [also] researched fermentation and I realized this was a way to potentially speed up the re-building of my immune system. I would say within six months or so, I was able to walk. After about eight months, I was able to run again. I started doing fermentation at home and then at work, to hopefully share the history and the culture of fermentation, educate people on its benefits, and share my own experience of what it did for me.
What is your favorite meal of the day?
My favorite meal of the day is breakfast. I’ve always loved cooking eggs. I think cooking eggs is an art form and its under-appreciated. It’s really the precursor to having a great day.
And your favorite thing to cook at home?
It’s for my wife, and it's pasta. I spent many years working at Italian restaurants, including one of Angela Hartnett’s restaurants, which was Northern Italian, and got to learn the ins and outs of almost everything there is to know about fresh pasta. It makes a mess, but it’s worth it!
Hero image: Ellē's executive chef Brad Deboy. Photo by TJ Buttner, courtesy of Ellē
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