Too many cooks may spoil the broth, but Adam Sobel ended up just fine. "Every experience I've had has been important to shaping my own style," says the Executive Chef of Bourbon Steak, the Michael Mina-backed dining experience at Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC. "What I've taken from each chef I've worked with has defined what I do and gotten me where I am now."
At Bourbon Steak, Sobel is dazzling DC with the pick of local products fashioned into creative twists on classic steakhouse fare. He got there by soaking up culinary smarts from a string of "big concept" chefs. From Bradley Ogden in Las Vegas, for instance, he learned the significance of seasonality. From Charlie Trotter in Chicago, he picked up attention to detail. With Guenter Seeger in Atlanta, he studied refinement and technique. Under Guy Savoy in Vegas, he learned to cook to guests' needs. And Rick Moonen at RM Seafood in Vegas opened his eyes to the importance of sustainability.
And from Michael Mina? "He's the ultimate restaurateur," says Sobel.
Sobel is pushing the artisan aspect of Bourbon Steak, where lamb, pork, goat and lighter fish dishes star alongside the expected beef. "We're also putting a lot of emphasis on vegetables and making sure dishes are balanced with less butter and a little more acid," he says. Sobel counts himself particularly fortunate to be able to utilize the hotel's herb and vegetable garden, which occupies 500 square feet along the C&O Canal towpath.
Sobel's career began at a vocational high school for the culinary arts on Long Island, where his instructors recognized his desire and hooked him into wonderful opportunities to learn and grow. His star-studded restaurant path has prepared him well for the adventurous palates of DC: "I'm enjoying the demographics here because people have such high expectations. That puts a lot of pressure on me. But that's what it's all about."
Q: You grew up cooking with your grandmother. What did she teach you about food?
A: She taught me that food really brings the family together. I'd sleep over at her house on Saturdays when I was 4 or 5 years old, and the whole family would come over on Sunday afternoon for a traditional Italian dinner. A lot of people don't eat dinner at 2 on a Sunday, but it's a very Italian thing. She taught me about simplicity with ingredients; she made rustic dishes like stuffed artichokes, gnocchi and pork roasts.
Q: What is your favorite ingredient to use from the garden at Bourbon Steak and why?
A: Purple sage. I think sage, and I think fall. The purple stuff is delicious and beautiful, great for finishing sauces or using in stuffings. I love to use it when we pan roast meats – I throw in sage leaves and baste the meats with the sage, which gives it a great, robust flavor.
Q: What's one dish you could eat over and over again?
A: Asian street noodles or dim sum.