CIA MAN: Ziebold on his graduation from the Culinary Institute of America. Photo courtesy of Eric Ziebold.
“I was 20 or 21 and going to culinary school. For Thanksgiving, we had two days off, so it would be a tough trip to fly from New York to Iowa and back. I had friends in DC, so I came down. I had been on a family vacation in Colorado and wanted to spend the spring break in Florida – I had not really been anywhere.
“I remember seeing people jogging in the mall, and it struck me as so surreal that you have the Washington Monument and the Capitol, and someone is just out for a run and living life. It’s something about Washington that I love. When I moved here in ’94, you could go to the Capitol one Sunday in August and pretend to be president because there would be no one nearby who could tell you that you are not.
“I knew I was not going back to Iowa. One of my culinary instructors said, ‘You have to go and work for this guy, Jeff Buben.’ I came down to Vidalia [Buben’s Southern restaurant in DC], and they offered me a job. At the time, there was a rebirth of American provincial cooking – Jeff Buben and Bob Kinkead are to Washington, what Charlie Palmer and David Burke were to New York. Many of these chefs had grown up in French kitchens and now cooked American food. Everyone was talking about the renaissance of American cuisine. Vidalia was a small kitchen. Peter Smith was one of the deputy chiefs. Cathal Armstrong started about six months after I did. Ted Walker still works for Buben. It was a pretty intense environment.
“I lived on the 20th and F, on the edge of GW. I cycled to Chinatown on my days off – I took a lot to Full Kee. I wanted to go to the fish market on Maine Avenue to buy soft shells because it was a novelty. for me. [My fellow cooks and I] would go to Bistro Française in Georgetown. We would try to make last call and order a bottle of red wine and eggs Benedict. One of my most vivid memories is being a 22-year-old chef with no money. You’re in Georgetown at 2 in the morning – you’ll see people like us in after-work attire, and then people in black ties coming from an event and stopping for a drink. It’s magical. Whatever you were looking for at the time, that’s what it could be. “
This article appears in the December 2021 issue of Washingtonian.