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Members on the Menu: Ari Gejdenson

February 7, 2014

You may know their food, but how much do you really know about our local chefs?  This is the first installment of a new feature called Members on the Menu.  Each month we will introduce one RAMW member through a series of questions—some serious, most quirky, none life-changing.  It’s not your standard in-depth interview or comprehensive dossier.  You can do a Google search for that.  This is a light-hearted look into the lives of some of our area’s impressive and talented chefs, who bring great food and dining experiences to patrons throughout the metro area.  We could have asked deep and probing questions, but instead thought you might like to know the really important stuff like their pet peeves and favorite junk food.

Our first member spotlight is restaurateur, Ari Gejdenson.  Ari is the Owner of the Mindful Restaurant Group, which includes Acqua al 2 (where he is the Executive Chef), Ghibellina, and Harold Black.  Ari grew up in the Eastern Market section of DC.  His journey into the kitchen came via the soccer field while he was an international player in Florence, Italy. He opened his first restaurant there, which featured American-style food.  Eventually Ari returned home and continued his passion for cooking in his hometown.  Ghibellina, his newest restaurant, opened in May 2013.  He describes it as an Italian gastro pub—a traditional drinking environment with good, restaurant-quality authentic Tuscan food. He recommends the Tagliatelle al Ragu.  Check out Ghibellina, Acqua al 2, and Harold Black, but if you want to say hello to Ari, don’t go at the end of this month.  He’ll be in Costa Rica exchanging vows with fiancée, Stacy Gilmore, his operations manager. Congratulations, Ari!

1.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

My dream job would be to run the DC United.

2.What did you have for dinner last night?

Grouper topped with white asparagus risotto 

3.Do you have an unusual talent?

In school, I memorized the numeric equivalent corresponding to each letter in the alphabet. (K=11, T=20, etc.)  It helps me all the time.

4.What song always makes you happy when you hear it?

“Raining Revolution” by Arrested Development (This one goes back to the early 90’s – YouTube it.)

5.What is your favorite DC tourist spot? 

The Eisenhower Executive Office Building.  I love the architecture. 

6. How about an out-of-the-way hidden DC treasure?

When I was in high school I used to go to the tunnel under L’Enfant Plaza.  It was centrally located and good place to hang out with friends. It was open air and had columns up to the roof and murals painted on the walls.  I haven’t been there since high school and think it might be closed now, but it was once a great place.

7. Other than your own, what is your favorite local restaurant?

I like a lot of restaurants.  The DC restaurant scene is really becoming wonderful. I go to Montmartre a lot.  The food is consistent, good, and simple.  I also like Komi – everything about it is perfect: the service, hospitality, and the Greek-inspired simple quality food.

8. What is your favorite ingredient with which to cook?

Chicken livers.  They are amazingly rich and delicious with fantastic taste.

9. What was your first job?

Independent contractor (shoveling snow).

10. You’re hosting a dream dinner party.  What three people would be at your table?

Kent Conrad, former United States Senator from North Dakota, Jay-Z (sans Beyoncé; Jay-Z can “represent the family”), and Hillary Clinton.

11. What current food trend are you most excited about?

I really gravitate toward authentic, traditional foods prepared simply.  This is the hallmark of Tuscan cuisine.  This isn't so much a trend, but we are seeing more of it in DC, and I really like it.

12. Do you have any pet peeves?

The use of smart phones in social situations.

13. What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you?

Don’t be so humble; you’re not that great.  Words of wisdom from my father’s father.

14.What is your favorite way to give back to the community?

I like to give back and am involved in several ways.  I work with different soccer programs and enjoy giving away turkeys at the holiday times to shelters, food banks, and community centers.  I really like working with local organizations.  We work with Watkins Football Team in Capitol Hill and with Miriam's Kitchen in NW.

15.What’s your go-to junk food?

(Said with very little hesitation) Cherry Garcia ice cream.

16.What hashtag would you use to describe yourself?

(Ari says his co-workers will find it amusing that he, a non-social media junky, is asked to brand himself with a hashtag.  There is a considerable amount of hesitation before but eventually a response formulating the response.)  #dontbejanky