Gerard Pangaud and his wife Ann Casso would love to entertain more often in the garden of their Glover Park home, where they have lived for seven years. One problem. “We don’t have a lot of friends and we have found it’s hard to meet people. Everyone is always busy with no time to socialize,” says Pangaud, the executive chef at the Bethesda-based Marriott International headquarters. He oversees breakfast, lunch and catering, serving 1,500 employee meals a day.
The couple’s neighbors don’t know what they are missing. In his native France, just before his 28th birthday, Pangaud was the youngest chef to receive two stars from the Michelin Guide. In 1993 and for the following 13 years, he thrilled diners with his creative cooking at the critically acclaimed Gerard’s Place on McPherson Square downtown. Before joining Marriott, he was the executive chef at the Pentagon. This culinary genius turns groceries into greatness.
He will tell you that his recipe for sweet potato vichyssoise “started in my brain at Gerard’s Place.” Sweet potatoes are usually very starchy. “But when you put in anise, celery and ginger, it gives a pep.” And the finished dish: “It’s not only tasty, it’s elegant, a word we are losing in cooking.” To dress it up, “put a little crab meat on top.”
A key ingredient is good chicken stock, and the chef knows that many people don’t have time to prepare it properly. For his own pantry needs, he taste-tested 21 brands. With a laugh, he announces the winner. “You wouldn’t believe it. It was Swanson. There is structure, and it’s not too salty.”
His recipe calls for the addition of high-fat heavy cream for richness, but this avid golfer and power walker, who recently dropped 25 pounds, says a substitution of Greek yogurt works nicely. “Either way,” he says, “the soup is a beautiful summer orange.”
Never idle, Pangaud is also a menu consultant for the recently opened Malmaison, a Parisian- inspired coffee and pastry bar, restaurant, night club and event space under the Whitehurst Freeway at 3401 K Street NW, a new venture from the Popal family, owner of Napoleon Bistro in Adams Morgan and Cafe Bonaparte in Georgetown.
Pangaud’s current favorite restaurants: Et Voila in the Palisades, Estadio in Logan Circle and Co Co Sala in downtown.
SWEET POTATO VICHYSSOISE WITH ANISE
1 lb sweet potatoes
1 generous cup minced celery
1 cup chopped onions
4¼ cups chicken stock
4 star anise
1 tablespoon chopped ginger
1½ tablespoons butter
1/3 cup heavy cream or plain Greek yogurt
fennel greens, optional garnish
Peel the potatoes and dice them in 1/3-inch cubes, sauté in butter with the onions until golden colored. Add the minced celery, ginger, star anise, and chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 25 minutes.
Remove from heat and allow flavors to infuse for 30 minutes. Remove the star anise and put in a blender, puree until smooth; strain. Cool the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, whisk in the cream or yogurt before serving with a garnish of fennel greens.
What’s Cooking, Neighbor? visits with wine, food and entertaining professionals, who call the Georgetown area home. Georgetowner dining columnist Walter Nicholls is the food critic for Arlington Magazine, a former staff writer for The Washington Post Food section.