The Bailliage of Greater Washington, DC, gathered on Zoom on May 19, 2021, to enjoy the Michelin-starred cuisine of chef Matt Baker. The bailliage first met Chef Baker in March 2019 at an exquisite dinner at Gravitas, his restaurant in the Ivy City neighborhood in Northeast Washington. At that dinner, the chef wowed diners with a menu that put his creativity and impeccable skill on full display. The bailliage was eager to experience the chef’s cuisine again, this time at home.
Originally from Houston, Chef Baker attended Johnson and Wales University in Miami and worked in some of South Beach’s finest restaurants. In 2009, he moved to Singapore to open Krish restaurant as the Executive Chef. Krish immediately met with high acclaim and Time magazine named Baker as the country’s hottest chef. Upon returning to Washington, the chef worked at some of this area’s best restaurants including minibar by José Andrés and Brasserie Beck, where he was Executive Sous Chef for Robert Wiedmaier. Chef Baker was then Chef de Cuisine at the Occidental Grill & Seafood and later opened City Perch in Bethesda as Executive Chef. In 2015, Zagat included Chef Baker in its “Top 30 Under 30” list. He opened Gravitas in July 2018 to rave reviews and just 15 months later his “approachable fine dining” earned it a Michelin star.
During the afternoon of the event, front-of-the-house staff from Gravitas delivered a five-course dinner to members’ and guests’ homes across the region. The delivery included wine for each course portioned in single-serving bottles.
That evening, Bailli Judy Mazza welcomed participants to the Zoom session and introduced Chef Baker, who discussed the menu in detail and stepped participants through reheating and serving the extravagant meal. As participants gathered, they enjoyed the hors d’oeuvre that the chef had included with dinner – saffron arancini with pesto granita, savory panna cotta, and elderflower gelee, a sophisticated take on this traditional favorite that hinted at the delights to come.
Inspired by the chef’s time in Asia, the evening’s first course was a luxurious Chirashi Bowl. “Chirashi” in Japanese translates to “scattered,” and in the culinary context refers to serving sushi ingredients chopped and presented over rice rather than being rolled. Chef Baker’s “sushi salad” featured marinated tuna, Ora King salmon belly, uni, foie gras terrine, and trout roe on tender sushi rice. Wasabi, seaweed, chive blossoms, furikake (a Japanese seasoning), and a soy vinaigrette amplified the flavors and umami of this extraordinary composition. Wine for this course was the Inazio Urruzol Txakolina 2019 from the Getariako Txakolina wine region in Spain. The Inazio Urruzola winery is a family-owned estate dating from the 14th century in the heart of the Basque region, on the Bay of Biscay near the border with France. This distinctly Basque wine is 90% Hondarr Abi Zuri grapes (for which the region is known) and 10% Petit Corvou. Fermentation in stainless steel tanks and contact with lees results in a bright wine with plenty of citrus and minerality, making this Txakolina a wonderful partner for the flavors and textures of the Chirashi bowl.
Chef Baker sources his ingredients locally whenever possible but also will seek out the best ingredients from around the world. For the next course, he showcased white asparagus from Belgium. The chef noted that this springtime delicacy deserved a simple approach to highlight its sweet, bitter, and crunchy attributes. He lightly blanched the asparagus and glazed it in brown butter, then served it with horseradish bavarois, a savory version of a custard typically associated with dessert, made with turnips, horseradish, and a bit of sugar as a counterpoint to the bitter element of asparagus. The dish was completed with red quinoa seasoned with lemon oil, grains of paradise (a pepper-like spice native to West Africa), black pepper, cardamom, and ginger, along with a gremolata vinaigrette with parsley, chives, garlic, capers, and olive oil. The Pieropan Soave Classico 2018 from Vento in northeast Italy offered balanced fruit and acidity to pair beautifully with this flavorful plate of spring. Four generations of the Pieropan family have been in the wine business since 1890 and have produced their Soave Classico since the early 1900s. Consisting of 85% Garganega and 15% Trebbiano dI Soave grape varieties grown in vineyards with rich volcanic soils, this wine is aged in glass-lined cement tanks.
Braised lamb ravioli followed. Lamb shoulder braised with rosemary, thyme, and red wine until it was incredibly tender and flavorful generously filled the al dente house-made pasta. Spring vegetables including peas, carrots, and sugar snap peas added fresh flavors and texture to the dish. Hazelnut-carrot butter – carrot purée cooked down with hazelnut oil to a thick consistency and to a surprisingly and delightfully sweet flavor – was a delicious garnish, with pecorino finishing the composition. Marotti Campi “Luzano” Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi 2017 worked exceptionally well with the dish. From the Marche region of Italy on the Adriatic coast, this wine is made from 100% verdicchio grapes from vineyards surrounding the hilltop castles near the village of Jesi (hence “dei Castelli di Jesi”). This wine is fermented in stainless steel and aged, also in stainless steel, on the lees for six months, creating a complex, well-structured wine with distinctive hints of almond and apple along with savory minerality.
Chef Baker’s duck course was spectacular. Slow-roasted air-dried Rohan duck breast glazed with a delicious black truffle honey sauce was joined by a braised duck leg and foie gras tart – a crisp tart shell filled with confit duck leg on a mousse of duck-liver, duck heart, and foie gras. Glazed celery root, celery root purée, and a cherry jus reduction completed the plate. Tornatore “Pietrarizzo” Nerello Mascalese 2016 from Sicily was outstanding with the duck duo. The Tornatore family traces its Sicilian family heritage to the 17th century and has been making wine on the northern side of Mt. Etna in Sicily since 1865. This ruby red wine is 100% Nerello Mascalese grown in the volcanic soil of the area and is fermented in wooden vats and aged for over a year in wooden barrels. This elegant wine is notable for distinctive hints of raspberry, plum, and cherry along with tobacco, sweet spice, and minerals.
A moist and flavorful brown sugar cake accompanied by strawberry compote and Sicilian pistachios concluded dinner in delicious style. The Braida Brachetto d’Acqui 2018 from Piedmont in northwestern Italy was great companion to the tasty dessert. Made with 100% brachetto grapes that are thought by ampelographers to be native to Piedmont, this lightly sweet, fizzy wine has plenty of fruit and floral notes to pair with a range of sweeter dishes. After a temperature-controlled fermentation and maceration with the grape skins (which imparts the wine’s bright red color), the prise de mousse, when the wine becomes effervescent, occurs in pressurized tanks before bottling and aging.
Throughout the dinner, Chef Baker shared not only details about each dish and its accompanying wine but also insight the challenges and opportunities of owning and operating a restaurant during a pandemic. He noted that a fine-dining tasting menu is difficult to do “to-go” as dishes don’t always transport correctly (although this evening’s dinner was flawless). In response, he pivoted his restaurant to more hearty dishes for his “to go” customers – lasagna and other pastas, his grandmother’s pozole, sandwiches, etc. – which made that business successful. Indeed, those menu items were so popular that people asked for them to become permanent. Seeing the opportunity, the chef recently opened a café and market called Baker’s Daughter across the street from Gravitas, which the chef described as a fun and creative outlet for him.
Judy concluded the event by presenting to Chef Baker a Chaîne wine coaster as a token of the bailliage’s appreciation for creating such an extraordinary meal and memorable evening. She noted that this was the 13th and final delivered event for the bailliage before it returns to in-person events in July, and that we couldn’t have asked for a better culmination to at-home events and virtual gatherings.