When most chefs go on research trips to foreign lands they visit Michelin-starred restaurants—or at least wherever Anthony Bourdain dined. But when the chefs of Maydan hit the road this summer, they’ll be looking to cook with old ladies.
“So instead of going to stage in big fancy restaurants, we’re looking for grandmas,” says owner Rose Previte, who will lead the trip. “Any grandma who wants to let us into her house to cook with her is what we’re looking for in that part of the world.”
The group hopes to explore Eastern Europe including the Caucasus, plus North Africa and the Middle East. That’s where they’ll draw inspiration for the new restaurant going into the Manhattan Laundry Building this fall. What these regions share in common is the use of the word “maydan.” The term describes any open space where people can gather and break bread, much like a plaza in Spain or a piazza in Italy.
It’s that convivial spirit that Previte and her partners Mike Schuster and Andy Lacy hope to capture with their next venture. Previte points to groups of 20-somethings in Spain who pick up giant beers and head to the plaza for a “botellón” where they drink and party into the night. “Every country has it, but America not so much,” she says. (Damn those open container laws and shrinking public spaces!)
The high ceilings of the once abandoned factory on Florida Avenue will help Previte and her design team bring the outside in and create the feeling of being in a public square, especially on the first floor, which will hold the bar. The second floor will feature two mezzanines for sit-down dining. Overall there should be seating for 100 people.
Current Compass Rose Chef Gerald Addison will be joined in the Maydan kitchen by Chef Chris Morgan. The two are also partners in the operation and will share executive chef duties at both Compass Rose and Maydan once Morgan joins the team in June.
Morgan’s resume includes a four-year stint on the West Coast where he worked in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Portland before returning to the D.C. area, which his family calls home, in 2013. Since his return he’s worked at The Dabney as a sous chef and he is still Chef Nathan Anda‘sright hand man at all of the restaurants that fall under the Red Apron Butcher umbrella, like EatBar, The Partisan, and Red Apron Burger Bar. The experience makes him a whiz at whole animal butchery, which he hopes to showcase when Maydan hosts events.
Addison took over the Compass Rose kitchen in January. His local resume includes Restaurant Nora, Eat The Rich, and A Baked Joint. What the two share in common is that both chefs have worked in a kitchen with an open hearth—Morgan at The Dabney and Addison at Parts & Labor in Baltimore. They’ll also have one at Maydan.
If you immediately think of flame-kissed meats and veggies, those will be plentiful. But bread will be a top attraction. The hearth will even have a built-in Georgian-style oven, similar to a tandoor used to make Indian naan. “We went to go see a bakery in New York,” Addison says. “From what I’ve read, there aren’t too many places in the country that have one.”
The idea is that you can learn a lot about a culture through its bread. On their research trip, the crew looks forward to seeing how migrating populations have shaped styles of bread. After all, the region they’re exploring sits where Mesopotamia once stood—its nickname being “the breadbasket.”
Previte hopes to expose Washingtonians to under-appreciated cuisines, much like she did with Georgian street food and Georgian wine at Compass Rose.
“There are political reasons the world didn’t know about Georgian food. It was behind the Soviet wall,” she explains. “It’s been rewarding here to see people connect with food they didn’t know about, and we feel there are a lot of other areas like that.”
The menu will be divided into smaller plates and family-style main dishes, all meant to be shared. The chefs will source locally when possible, and are toying with the idea of growing some of the herbs they’ll use most, like za‘atar, even though it’s not native to D.C.
The overall goal is to go back to basics. Previte says she may even ask the chefs to unlearn some of their classical French training. She hopes whenever they enter the kitchen they’ll ask WWGD. What Would Grandmas Do?
Maydan opens this fall at 1346-B Florida Ave. NW; maydandc.com