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Chef Armani Johnson was one of those kids who started cooking as soon as he was tall enough to see over the kitchen counter. Now the 27-year-old from Prince George’s County has his first executive chef job helming the kitchen at ABC Pony in Navy Yard. “I’ve been sous chef for three or four years,” he says. “This is my first numero uno.” He replaces the opening team of Chefs Paolo Dungca and Chris Yates.
The menu at the restaurant operated by restaurateur Erik Bruner-Yang has already begun to change under Johnson’s leadership. You’ll still find early hits like the lumpia filled with burrata and meatballs and the spaghetti swirled with XO sauce, but there are some new dishes too. Johnson says not to skip his Old Bay-spiced crab dip or the carrot agnolotti with snow pea tips and crispy prosciutto.
Another fun dish is the eggplant cavatelli with mushrooms, melted leeks, and stir-fry sauce. “Our cavatelli dish is inspired by lo mein that you’d get at an American Chinese take-out restaurant,” Johnson says. “I’ll always have an item like that. When I was young, we were outside a lot and we’d eat a lot of carry-out.”
“Armani’s first menu at ABC Pony is really just delicious and reflective of his unique culinary perspective and infectious personality,” Bruner-Yang says. “I am very excited for him.”
Johnson also has a strategy for leading his kitchen. “I always encourage people to read and learn more about food,” he says. “If everyone’s learning together and producing food together, it makes for a good work environment. I’m trying really hard.”
After graduating from high school in 2010, Johnson went on to attend the International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Washington. He took a job at Sally’s Middle Name, which closed on H Street NE in 2019, and also worked at Julii in Bethesda’s Pike & Rose development. For the past year or so he’s been helping Bruner-Yang out filling whatever role is necessary in his growing company.
ABC Pony is currently open for dine-in service as well as take-out and delivery on Caviar.
ABC Pony, 2 Eye St. SE; abcpony.com