4 Restaurants, 3 Days, 1 Chef

By Giraffe

A few weeks back, my wife and I were in Washington, DC and, in addition to visiting the museums and monuments that characterize any such trip, we reprised our habit of diving into the local fare. We’re both fans of tapas, so the first night was an easy choice: Jaleo, owned and operated by chef José Andrés. Great food, attentive service, neighborhood scene. We’d recommend it to anyone.

For the next morning–a Sunday–we’d made reservations at an intriguing place called Café Atlántico that claimed to offer a “Latino Dim Sum” experience. It was awesome, to put it mildly (foie gras soup! potato-vanilla mousse!). And, it is…operated by José Andrés (we didn’t notice the cookbook display until we were on our way out).

That night, we wanted cheap and easy. A small Mexican joint called Oyamel offered the perfect solution. We had no idea we’d be confronted by yet another José Andrés cookbook display when we walked in, but at this point we figured we’d just go with it, and we weren’t disappointed. From myriad ceviches to the specialty Oaxacan grasshopper tacos, the small plates are authentic, regional Mexican at its best.

Having explored the Andrés empire to this point, we decided to go for the hat trick and sample another of his establishments on our final night in DC. This time, it was Zaytinya, offering a Greek, Turkish and Lebanese focus while maintaining the tapas format. Though a departure from his Spanish roots, the execution was spot on, once again.1

But, you ask: “What does any of this have to do with presentations?” After all, you don’t come here for a foodie blog (though I’m sure I’ll provide more of that).

About halfway through our Oyamel outing, I started to realize I was experiencing a template: small plates define the format, friendly and attentive staff cultivate the experience, and menu design and restaurant decor define the theme. For instance, Oyamel proffers alebrige while Zaytinya’s architecture and color scheme recall Santorini. Additionally, each restaurant’s cocktail list is unique, focusing on regional flavors and ingredients. In all, it is a perfect balance of structure and invention.

Or, to put it another way, José Andrés understands presentation.

First, he considers his audience. In a town where old-boys’ clubs and Chesapeake cooking dominate, Andrés recognizes that some people crave an alternative–and he’s built a niche that delivers just that.

Second, he differentiates himself by defining a style, and then sticking with it. Any presenter can do the same. Pick the format: are you tapas (lots of slides in quick succession), or are you steakhouse (big, meaty slides that require you to linger)? Select your flavors: are you the International Pancake Family Restaurant (safe and predictable)2, or is your offering seasonal, local and made-to-order (trust the chef)? Finally, consider your structure: do you serve soup, salad, entree and dessert (traditional) or are you prix fixe (storytelling)?

Third, Andrés remains flexible within his style. And that’s what a template is for–not to constrain a presenter, but to help them replicate past successes.

Doing the above will likely result in a dedicated following. Think of it this way: the people who come to your presentations are your diners, you are their chef, and your presentation is what they’ll be eating. Once they’ve sampled your food, will they want to come back?

1 Full disclosure: there’s no profit motive in this for me; I merely (and happily) stumbled into this.

2 At some point I remember a comedian (Carlin?) advising the audience to never eat in a restaurant whose name contains the words “international,” “pancake,” or “family.” He was right. I’ve added the word “restaurant” to that list because redundancy is so tasteless.


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