James Beard Foundation’s ‘Taste America: Washington DC’ hits Anju in Northwest

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Taste America' at Anju (Part 1)

The James Beard Foundation is visiting 20 cities in its 10th annual “Taste America” series.

This Thursday, the tour stops by D.C. for a sold-out dinner at Anju on 18th St., Northwest.

“It’s basically a satellite dinner series across the U.S. joining chefs from different culinary backgrounds, highlighting the tapestry of American cuisine,” Executive Chef Angel Barreto told WTOP. “The James Beard Foundation chose chefs who are leading kitchens by doing things differently … trying to highlight what it means to be a chef in our society.”

The event will feature a multicourse menu combining Barreto’s signature Korean food and Chef Ana Castro’s renowned Mexican food from Lengua Madre in New Orleans.

“She’s going to be doing a fresh masa dish with beans and a fermented daikon,” Barreto said. “[I’m] doing a cheese course using Kerrygold Irish cheese, a traditional Korean dish called Hotteok, which is a pancake … stuffing it with different Irish cheeses and strawberry preserves. We’re also doing … a duck breast and prime rib-eye Ssam Board.”

Barreto is a 2022 national finalist for Emerging Chef and Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic.

“The James Beard Awards for most chefs is the crème de la crème,” Barreto said. “Just to be in the same category with a lot of chefs that I admire is absolutely amazing. When I’m in Anju, I’m don’t really think about a lot of things except work and trying to get things done, so it feels good when people recognize what you do … is meaningful and impactful.”

Which dishes are typically on the menu on a routine night at Anju?

“Our most popular dishes are Korean fried chicken … tossed in a spicy gochujang sauce,” Barreto said. “We have pork and kimchi Mandu dumplings. … Jjamppong is one of my favorite dishes, a spicy seafood noodle soup with scallops, mussels, shrimp, calamari. … Also, we have regular Kalbi, which is marinated short rib … we do a lettuce wrap with it.”

Baretto started out in political science, but quickly found his passion for cooking.

“I grew up as a military kid moving around,” Barreto said. “My dad got a permanent position at the White House … so I grew up from the Clinton through the Obama Administration in the White House. … It wasn’t the life for me, but I always had a passion for cooking from my mom, so I decided to go to … the Academy of Cuisine in Maryland.”

He worked his way up from Vermilion in Virginia to Wolfgang Puck’s The Source in D.C. before landing at Mandu in 2006, which burnt down and reopened as Anju in 2019.

“Mandu was one of the first Korean restaurants in D.C.,” Barreto said. “Anju is a contemporary Korean restaurant, but we do a little bit of everything. … We have dishes from our owner’s mom’s original menu called Mama Lee’s Classics. … Dishes from 16th century Korea. … Our goal is to show people the broad swath of what Korean food is.”

The pandemic has been particularly tough for the restaurant industry.

“We really had to come together as a team,” Barreto said. “We never did to-go when we opened Anju, it was always in-house dining, so we had to figure out what dishes we could do to-go, how we could facilitate it and how we could do it with large volume with a smaller team, so it was difficult, a hard learning process, but … we persevered. It was a crucible.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Taste America' at Anju (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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