Taming the Beast
Naomi Gallego made her name as a pastry chef at such illustrious restaurants as Washington’s Blue Duck Tavern, Le Diplomate and Vidalia. But the Michigan-born, Texas-raised chef’s initial culinary training and focus in professional kitchens was on the savory side. Gallego, 43, earned a degree in culinary arts management from St. Philip’s College in San Antonio and a master pastry diploma from the Konditoren Meisterschule in Cologne, Germany.
In October, the restaurant Little Beast opened in Chevy Chase, D.C., and Gallego, who lives in that neighborhood, started off as a consultant creating the dessert and pastry offerings. Little Beast features wood-fired pizzas and initially it was an all-day café and restaurant. By December, the eatery, which seats 74 (plus 44 outside), switched to evenings-only, the opening chef was gone and Gallego took the helm. The result? A smoothly running restaurant serving top-notch food—from a perfectly balanced Caesar salad and leopard-spotted pizzas to a glazed short rib to die for and one of the best chocolate cakes in town. We caught up with Gallego, who talked about Little Beast’s new brunch menu and shared some news about her health.
How did you get into cooking?
I was interested in cooking as a kid. I had an uncle who was bicoastal. His wife was a food stylist and a chef. I visited them alone in New York City when I was 10 in 1985. They lived in an amazing brownstone. I had never seen food prepared that way. I started baking cakes at home and got my first cookbook, Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible.
So you were always into pastry?
I got into it professionally by accident. I was working in a classical French restaurant, breaking down sides of veal, making court bouillon [a refined broth used as a poaching liquid], then slowly the chef started showing me how to make things like soufflé glacé Grand Marnier and classic opera cake. I decided to make the switch and went to work at La Mansión del Rio Hotel in Alamo City and went full-on pastry.
How did you wind up at Little Beast?
I consulted for Aaron [Gordon, the owner,] four or five years ago when they opened Bakers & Baristas [in D.C.] and I launched their dessert program. We kept in touch and looked at several properties together, but nothing came to fruition. I wasn’t looking when Little Beast came up, but the opportunity presented itself. I’m close to Tracy Wilson, the director of operations. It was like I was joining a family.
That closeness is important?
I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. At this time of my life, I really need that kind of environment. I work for people who are saying, ‘We’re going to do everything we can for you, we’ll be flexible with your schedule.’ I’ve seen people in situations like mine lose their jobs multiple times and I think that is so unfair. Their support means everything. It is so different from any other place I’ve worked.
Tell me about the brunch that started in March.
It’s a balance between breakfast and lunch—ricotta pancakes, huevos rancheros (which is a necessity for me as a Texas person), a croissant egg sandwich, a fried chicken biscuit sandwich, the ubiquitous avocado toast, some pizzas, a breakfast pizza, a kids oatmeal. A brunch salad with chicken, avocado and quinoa—things like that.
Let’s talk about your killer chocolate cake with chocolate glaze.
I didn’t set out to make a recipe for chocolate cake necessarily to be vegan, but it turned out that way.
Wait, that cake is vegan? I had no idea.
Yes, it has olive oil and white balsamic vinegar in the batter, Valrhona cocoa powder, Valrhona chocolate in the glaze—the vegan part is just sort of a surprise. But the whipped cream on the side is not vegan.
Little Beast, 5600 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.; 202-741-4599; littlebeastdc.com
Comings & Goings
The San Diego-based fast-casual chain Urban Plates, which opened in Westfield Montgomery mall in March, will open outlets in Chevy Chase and Gaithersburg in late 2019.
California-based hot dog chain Dog Haus Biergarten, which already has a Bethesda location, plans to open in Kentlands Market Square in Gaithersburg in July.
Celebrity chef Michael Schlow is taking over the former Taylor Gourmet space in Bethesda Row and opening his first fast-casual restaurant, Prima, in late spring.
Cajun restaurant Louisiana Kitchen and Bayou Bar closed in Bethesda in March after a 10-year run. Silver Spring Cuban restaurant Cubano’s has taken over the space.
Rockville Town Square’s Little Dipper Hot Pot House closed in March.
Macdara’s Grille in Wheaton closed in February, as did Paisano’s Pizza in Silver Spring