By Lisa Comento, Foodable Contributor
Follow the red brick sidewalks of Georgetown walking east along P Street and they will lead you to After Peacock Room. This quaint fine-dining bistro is only a few blocks from Wisconsin Avenue and a true dining gem. Restaurant owner and interior designer, Heewon Ra, recently hired accomplished Executive Chef Sebastien Rondier, formerly of Decanter at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Meet the Chef
Born in Le Cher, France, Sebastien credits his grandparents on his mother’s side as his cooking inspirations — from his grandmother’s cooking to his grandfather who woke up nearly each morning at 6 a.m. to tend to the garden and farm animals. Fresh eggs, poultry, fruits, vegetables and herbs were on the family’s daily menu.
Growing up, Sebastien says (without hesitation) that his favorite dish was chicken and fries or braised rockfish. “The chicken was from the farm and since it ate fresh corn, the skin was yellow and not the chalky color you see in the stores. My grandmother would stuff the chicken with garlic and thyme — simple ingredients that would not take too much away from natural flavors of the meat.”
His father’s job moved the family a few times throughout southwest France, which influenced his love of experiencing new cultures. Not a fan of school, he preferred photography or cooking to sitting in a classroom.
Developing His Passion
At age 16, Sebastien discovered his calling to be a chef when he began his culinary studies at CFA Hotellerie DAX in the southwest of France in Les Landes department near the Spain border. The 2-year apprenticeship was designed so the students could begin hands-on training in a restaurant and get paid while learning. For two years, the students alternated two weeks at a time at the restaurant and two weeks in school.
After graduation, Sebastien worked at Hotel Helianthal in St. Jean-De-Luz in Basque Country, France. Tapas were a cultural staple in this area. The anchovies, lamb and duck were served with the same farm-to-table approach that, while now becoming more common in America, has been normal protocol in Europe. This enchanting spa resort catered to those with diabetes by having both a regular menu and a diabetic menu. This opportunity allowed Sebastien to learn how to make dishes for those with dietary restrictions.
Sebastien was next hired as a line cook at Le Bristol Paris, working under Chef de Cuisine Michel Del Burgo. Having grown up in the countryside, this was not only his first time living in the city but his first time in Paris. Shortly after, he had the honor of being invited by Chef Michel to go with him to Le Taillevent restaurant. As Chef de partie, he worked at an establishment that on average had 120 people for lunch and nearly 180 every day for dinner.
Moving Up the Ladder
Sebastien’s first time working for the renowned Chef Alain Ducasse was at Le Louis XV restaurant in Monte Carlo, France as a line cook. Another amazing opportunity came up when one of Chef Alain Ducasse’s restaurants in New York City at The Essex House Hotel was hiring (the hotel restaurant has since been renamed). He saw this as the ideal opportunity to expand his culinary skills, and was hired as the Executive Sous Chef there, where he worked for six years.
His next adventure took him to Puerto Rico working on Vieques Island at another of Chef Alain Ducassse’s restaurants — this time, with the Starwood Hotel chain.
“Discovering the Puerto Rican culture was interesting, how they used root vegetables like Mofongo,” Sebastian said.
City living called him back after working for two years in paradise. He was hired as Executive Chef at Adour Restaurant at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, D.C. before moving to Decanter (also a St. Regis restaurant) until starting at After Peacock Room this past May.
“I wanted something less corporate and liked that it is a small neighborhood restaurant,” Sebastien says of After Peacock Room. His menu is filled with innovative combinations like octopus with squid ink emulsion, fresh peas and pea shoot. You will even find a braised Chesapeake rockfish with asparagus and gluten-free sauce and lemon confit. The wine selection stands up to the dishes and is well-chosen.
After Peacock Room will close for the month of August and reopen on September 1st with an even more tantalizing menu. You can look forward to his lobster ricotta gnocchi with porcini mushrooms, salmon cabbage with apple, and his lamb saddle couscous with dry fruits. After Peacock Room is an ideal first date restaurant with its dark walls, dotted with candle-shaped lights. Whether you are on a date, dining solo or with friends, make After Peacock Room a regular on your list.