Young and Hungry

Chefs Veg Out: Justin Bittner of Bar Pilar

Short ribs and baby octopus may dominate many menus in the city, but that doesn't mean local chefs can't find love in an acorn squash. In our ongoing series, Chefs Veg Out, we'll prove D.C.’s chefs can play with more than just meat.
  • Name: Justin Bittner
  • Title: Executive Chef
  • Restaurant: Bar Pilar
  • Twitter: @BarPilar
  • Cooking Since: 1995
  • Distinguishing Feature: "I'm not a hard-ass in the kitchen. There's no need to yell at people. I'm not a screamer chef." How do you get things done? "Ask."
  • Favorite Vegetable: Tomato. "Cherokee purple is my favorite. I just like to eat them with salt. I won't eat them out of season."
  • Least Favorite Vegetable: Sunchokes. "I don't like the flavor profile, a little too earthy for me. It's too much for my palate. But I will cook them and put them on the menu."
  • Memorable Meatless Dish: "Me and the guys [Ben Lackie, sous-chef and Oscar Cruz, executive sous-chef, the "hierarchy in the kitchen"] go to Dukem when we get off at about 10 on Mondays. We eat the braised and long-cooked lentils. I'm not really sure what all the vegetable are because they cook everything to shit. But I really like them. We get the 7-meat and 7-vegetable combo and then go to town."
  • Best Vegetable Dish at Bar Pilar: Roasted potatoes. "We roast them and serve with a malt vinegar aioli. We use Russett potatoes because it's the perfect amount of starch for getting crispy. I won't eat a lot of my dishes anymore because I'm tired of eating them but that's the one I'll take a bite out of. It never comes off the menu."
  • Quick and Dirty Meatless Idea: Brussels sprouts with pecans. Boil the sprouts (1 cup of salt per gallon of water) for a few minutes. "We err on the edge of underdone so they can caramelize on the pan and won't get mushy. Then blanch and split each sprout in half. Toast pecans with oil, salt, and fresh rosemary until crunchy, set aside. Let whole butter start to brown, then add the sprouts, salt, black pepper and shallots. Shallots are 'integro.'" (Integro?  "Integrity, the integrity of the dish. Important.") "We put shallots in everything we make. There's not a sauteed dish on the menu that's not finished with shallots. Not one. When the sprouts are cooked, put 5 or 6 pecans in your hand and squeeze until they break up, then drop them in the pan with the sprouts."

Photo Courtesy: ThreeLockharts Communications

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