Exploring comfort food: At Maydan, comfort extends beyond the cooking

September 17, 2019

For the Exploring Comfort Food miniseries, WTOP interviewed D.C.-area chefs on their favorite comfort foods, and how the tastes and smells from life experiences influence the way they cook and eat today.

[Part 1: A chef’s connection to Cuban, Cajun and frozen Oreos]

Sometimes comfort food is about more than the food (WTOP's Rachel Nania)

A few years ago, Chris Morgan and Gerald Addison embarked on the culinary journey of a lifetime. In Morocco, they dined in private homes on harira, bastilla and lamb tagine. And in Georgia, they ate roasted goat at outdoor parties and attended supras with strangers.

But on the last night of their food-filled trip — research for the soon-to-open D.C. restaurant Maydan — the two chefs were finally able to lead the cooking at a small party. A guest brought a few rib-eyes to the feast, so Morgan and Addison raided the host’s spice cabinet and rubbed the beef with blue fenugreek and adjika before cooking it over an open fire.

“It was one of those moments where we were like, ‘Wow, we have to bring this one back home,’ because it was so cool,” said Morgan, a co-executive chef at Maydan who was originally against including a steak on the restaurant’s menu to encourage diners to venture outside the familiar.

“It was such a beautiful experience. We ate for like five hours and drank for forever and eventually sang ‘Country Roads.’ But that dish, to me, brings back this beautiful memory, and it’s just something that we scraped together,” added Addison, also a co-executive chef at Maydan.

Maydan is located in the historic Manhattan Laundry building in Northwest D.C. (WTOP/Nahal Amouzadeh)

Travel has always been a source of inspiration for Addison’s palate. The D.C. native traveled often with his parents, and when he was home, would try new cuisines at friends’ homes. At 15, he landed a summer job in the kitchen at Restaurant Nora, a fine-dining establishment in Dupont Circle.

Morgan’s foray into food wasn’t as direct. He took the more traditional post-college route until he fully realized his love of cooking.

“It is one of those things where you kind of just know you’re meant to do that,” said Morgan, who also grew up in the D.C. area.

In 2017, the chefs launched Maydan — a Middle Eastern concept in the historic Manhattan Laundry building from restaurateur Rose Previte. In 2018, Bon Appétit named it one of the country’s best new restaurants.

The menu is filled with spreads like labneh and hummus, which are scooped up with warm bread. There are also small plates — ground lamb kebabs with pistachio, carrots with lemon and haissa, and shrimp with dried lime, tamarind and chile — plus a few options to share, including a rib-eye, rubbed with blue fenugreek and adjika. Nearly everything is cooked over a large hearth in the middle of the restaurant.

Morgan, Addison and their team brought more than recipes back from their journey through Morocco, Georgia, Tunisa and Beruit. Maydan mirrors the warm hospitality the chefs experienced in the homes of their hosts.

“It’s completely comforting just going to someone’s house that you don’t know, who welcomes you and brings you in for seemingly no reason,” Addison said.

“We want to give people an experience more than anything. The food, obviously we want it to be great and we work really hard at that, but the overall feeling that you get when you come in and you see the fire and you sit down and have this crazy spread of a million things — that’s something that is really really hard to translate.”

Nearly everything at Maydan is cooked over a large hearth in the middle of the restaurant. (WTOP/Nahal Amouzadeh)

At the end of a long night spent cooking over the fire, Morgan and Addison don’t usually have the energy (or appetite) for a warm pot of lamb tagine or a grilled Georgian-style steak. That’s when they reach for a few other foods that bring them comfort.

Morgan gravitates toward a BLT (his wife makes him several at a time and keeps them stashed in the refrigerator) and Addison opts for a grilled cheese sandwich or, when cooking for his family, a roast chicken.

“It’s easy and comforting and everybody’s going to like it. It’s a very safe option, and that’s kind of what I want in that scenario,” Addison said.

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