Each month, Evan Caplan speaks with a chef of a Georgetown-area eatery. In August, he chatted with Anton Bolling, executive chef at Fabio and Maria Trabocchi’s Fiola Mare in the Washington Harbour. Chef Bolling’s culinary career started right after high school, when he attended Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Mendota Heights, Minnesota, on the southern edge of the Twin Cities. After graduating, he moved home to Philadelphia and began his career with Starr Restaurants. He worked at three of Stephen Starr’s top restaurants in the city, Washington Square, Alma de Cuba and the Dandelion, where he had his first sous-chef role. Buoyed by this success, he was part of the opening team at Starr’s Le Diplomate on 14th Street NW in D.C., staying for several years before joining the Fiola Mare team as sous-chef.
Tell us about your career path.
Anton Bolling: I would have to say it all started at my grandmother’s kitchen table. That’s where I fell in love with food. Watching her cook dinner for my sister, and especially during the holidays for the entire family, made it for me. I learned many techniques from her that, later in life, I discovered to be classical French.
The Dandelion was where I got my first real shot at the sous-chef position. After that, the opportunity to open Le Diplomate here in D.C. presented itself, and I took it. There, I built a great relationship with Brinn Sinnott, who took over as the executive chef at Fiola Mare in 2014. He reached out to me when he needed a sous-chef at Fiola Mare, and that is what led me to this point in my career now.
What’s your favorite dish to cook?
AB: Easy: pho! It’s my favorite thing to eat.
What’s the best part about being a chef, especially in Georgetown?
AB: The best part is doing something I love to do every single day, fulfilling a dream I’ve had since I was 11 years old. In Georgetown, it’s the community of restaurants. We all take care of each other, whether you go in for dinner or a drink after work, or when you have an emergency and need to borrow a gallon of milk.
What’s your secret ingredient?
AB: Fish sauce. You wouldn’t believe how versatile it can be. I also like to use pickled hot cherry peppers. I’m from Philadelphia and I miss my hoagies, which have lots of them. Cherry peppers taste like home.
How much of your personal taste is reflected in the menu?
AB: The menu at Fiola Mare is a reflection of all the culinary minds in the kitchen. Every dish tends to have a piece of all the chefs in it. We are allowed to be as creative as we want, and we don’t hold back.
What should people try at your restaurant? What makes it unique?
AB: The uni and foie gras mousse with blue prawn tartare. Uni and foie complement each other very well. Coupled with the sweetness of raw prawns, a bit of ginger and whatever seasonal acidic bite we can pair with it — right now that’s a red currant consommé — makes for one delicious, well-balanced bite.
Everyone should also try our crudo section. It’s where we tend to be our most creative. It is also the section of the menu where we highlight the ingredients upon which the foundation of Fiola Mare is built — high-quality, fresh seafood.
What makes a great chef?
AB: Confidence, teamwork, creativity, strong work ethic, integrity, humility, strong leadership and a willingness to learn and improve. Anyone can be taught how to cook, and there are plenty of good cooks who make terrible chefs. A great chef knows how to motivate and get the best out of his or her team.
Anything especially interesting ever happen with your location being right on the water?
AB: I know this has nothing to do with the restaurant, but a robot drowned itself. That was interesting.
What is something no one knows about you?
AB: I love reality TV competition shows like “The Voice” and “So You Think You Can Dance.” I respect the talent featured on those shows and keep up with them religiously.
When you’re not cooking, what do you do?
AB: I’m lazy at home, and I love to binge-watch TV on my days off. I also like to go for long runs and/or long strolls through the city. Sometimes I’ll walk from my apartment in Glover Park down to the Mall, then over to H Street NE and back, all on foot. I’m also a nerd. I like to read about the latest goings-on in physics, astronomy and robotics. If I had the time I would get into one of those kickball leagues on the Mall. I love kickball!