Chef Michael Ellish, who had signed on as executive sous chef at Kwame Onwuachi’s tasting menu restaurant The Shaw Bijou, has left the venture even before its anticipated Nov. 1 opening.
He has quietly stepped into the executive chef role at Barrel on Capitol Hill.
“It’s more Kwame and I weren’t seeing to eye to eye on some things anymore,” Ellish says of his departure from the partnership with Onwuachi, with whom he has been cooking for years.
Dinner for two at the forthcoming restaurant can cost $962 for a couple. (Tasting menu = 2 x $185; wine pairing = 2 x $185; service charge = $148; tax = $74).
“That was basically it,” he says. “It wasn’t just the pricing. It was a lot of things. That was one of them, but there are a million other different things. It was more personal than business, if you will.”
At Barrel, Ellish is stepping into the role formerly held by his friend Garret Fleming, who Washingtonians might remember from his flash in the pan on the past season of Top Chef.
“Garret and I are very good friends,” Ellish says. “Our food overlaps. He did low country cuisine and I do modern American from the South. It crossed over a lot, so it was easy to jump into the kitchen.”
Ellish moved to the District last August to open The Shaw Bijou with Onwuachi (who incidentally was on the same season of Top Chef as Fleming).
“Anything you’ll get at Shaw Bijou you can get [at Barrel] for a third of the price,” Ellish says, explaining he and Onwuachitake a similar approach to cooking. “We pull food from the same places. Memories and our interpretation of it. We’re not waving magic wands and making crazy food. We take a base dish and tweak it a little bit. Super easy.”
Regarding the split, Onwuachi says by email mail, “It was a pleasure working with chef Ellish. We wish him all the best with his new venture and really look forward to trying his food.”
Ellish, who hails from New Orleans and cooked at John Besh’s farm-to-table Louisiana restaurant La Provence, has already started tweaking the menu at Barrel. One of his dishes is “NOLA style Creole ‘BBQ’ shrimp with crusty bread and scallions” ($15). While he’ll roll out more changes in the next month in a half, Ellish says he won’t take guest favorites like the wild boar pappardelle off the menu.
Barrel, 613 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; (202) 543-3622; barreldc.com