This week’s Womply Merchant Spotlight is on Bistro Cacao. This delightful restaurant, located in Capitol Hill, is comprised of a well-knowledge staff that is passionate about French cuisine and providing a friendly atmosphere to their customers. With dishes such as pan-seared duck, rack of lamb, and hanger steak, its commitment of creating and serving great food is no surprise. Bistro Cacao offers a lunch, dinner, dessert, and weekend brunch menu. It also has a large wine selection. Come hungry, eat, relax, enjoy yourself, and leave full and happy.
Womply got the opportunity to sit down with the head chef and part-owner Kemal Degar. Kemal shared with us his extensive cooking background and the journey of how he came to be the head chef at Bistro Cacao. We admire his commitment to delivering high-quality dishes with the freshest ingredients and his drive to make sure the restaurant keeps Capitol Hill happy and coming back for more.
Womply’s Interview with Bistro Cacao
What is your name? How did you get started with cooking in general?
My name is Kemal Degar. I am the chef and part-owner at Bistro Cacao. I came to the United States in 1992 because the owners of the restaurant, where I was currently working as a chef, in Turkey also had a restaurant in the United States. I came to the United States and trained with two good chefs, Yannick Cam and Jean-Louis Palladin. I worked/trained with them for 3 years. Then I started to work at all different places–The Raddison Hotel, Hilton, etc. to get more experience. After that, I worked 5 years at a catering company called Well Dunn Catering. In 2003, we opened a restaurant in Fairfax, Virginia named Le Tire-Bouchon (which means wine opener in French). Then I opened my own bakery in Virginia. After that, two brothers (my current partners) called me and told me they had a new restaurant. So in 2009, [the three of us] opened Bistro Cacao.
What are the most important aspects of being a chef and owning your own restaurant?
There are three things that are very important to me. The food has to be simple (not complicated), fresh (we serve everything within 7 days of delivery), and high quality. We have all kinds of high-quality stuff here [ranging] from lobster, to filet mignon, to rack of lamb, to scallops, to Chilean sea bass. They are all top items.
I like to make my customers feel comfortable and want to come back. I want them to be able to talk to their friends about Bistro Cacao. That’s the most important thing about us. Here, it’s not about just one time where customers come to eat at the restaurant, you want them to come back. Also, it’s a neighborhood restaurant. It’s never too crowded, and 70% of our customers are people who work in Capitol Hill. The neighborhood and the senate support us because they’re always here. Some senators live in the area, and the city mayor has come [to eat] here a couple of times as well. For me, opening a restaurant is not about making money. It’s about friends, connections, and relationships. We love the support from the neighborhood.
What made you want to leave Turkey and come to the United States?
The restaurant I was working at in Turkey was open during the summer but then it would shut down every winter because the weather gets too cold. When the restaurant closed for the winter, [the restaurant owners] sent me to the United States to train because they didn’t want to lose me as a chef during the the months the restaurant had to stay closed. I would train for 6 months and then go back to Turkey. For 4 years, I went back and forth between the United States and Turkey. After 4 years, I started to really like it here. I wanted to build my life and future here. I was only 20 years old when I came [to the United States]…this is my home now.
Why did you choose to focus on French cuisine?
I chose to focus on French cuisine because when you go to culinary school, you have to learn French and Italian cuisine. I was interested in French mostly because of the desserts. That’s why I opened a bakery.
Do you keep your recipes in your head or do you write them down?
When training and when working in a different place, I take notes but it’s mostly in my head. Basically, it’s about creation. Recipes are constantly evolving. I believe you can always learn. Life is not long enough to learn everything. I am very open-minded, and I believe there is always something you can learn from everyone.
What are the top entrees and desserts that you would recommend to diners at Bistro Cacao?
Rack of Venison [Herb crusted venison rack with caramelized pear, roquefort polenta cake ginger, cherry sauce], Chilean Sea Bass [Pistachio crusted Sautéed sea bass, French green beans, Roquefort polenta cake and mango champagne sauce], and the Apple Tart.
[THIS INTERVIEW HAS BEEN CONDENSED AND EDITED.]
We think Kemal’s vision of a great neighborhood restaurant is just fantastic. Be sure to check out Bistro Cacao the next time you’re in the area. You won’t regret it!
Here are some additional pictures from Bistro Cacao for you to enjoy:
Bistro Cacao is located at 320 Massachusetts Ave, NE. Washington, DC 20002
A special thank you to Kemal from Bistro Cacao for taking the time to chat with us!