Chef Nick Stefanelli opens his upscale Italian restaurant, Masseria, in the Union Market area today. But for the first two weekends, he's handing the cooking over to someone who's never worked in a professional kitchen before: Zeke Emanuel, former health care advisor to President Barack Obama and brother of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Emanuel is an accomplished physician, author, and health policy expert, but lesser known is his pancake-making prowess. The proponent for the Most Important Meal of the Day prepared breakfast from scratch for his three daughters nearly every single day as they were growing up, just as his grandfather (a food delivery guy) did for him in his childhood. Emanuel will now make morning meals for diners at Masseria July 25-26 and Aug. 1-2 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
"It's a totally nutty, insane, ridiculous proposition," Emanuel admits. "But there it is."
Emanuel says he was hosting dinner a couple months ago for some friends, including Sara Weiner, who runs the Good Food Awards, and Jodie McLean, the CEO of Edens, Masseria's landlord and the developer of Union Market. "Somehow I get onto the breakfast thing, and I'm ranting and raving, and Jodie says, 'Alright, let's do it!'... One thing leads to another leads to another, and before you know it, everything's finished."
The menu will feature blueberry pancakes, waffles, a mushroom frittata, fruit muesli, a quail egg omelet, duck bacon, and lamb sausage. Emanuel will make French toast with challah shipped in from one of his former oncology professors, Marc Garnick. One thing you won't find: potatoes. "Potatoes are the worst thing you can eat," says Emanuel, who's looking to also promote healthy eating through the pop-up. There won't be any pork either, because Emanuel runs a Kosher household.
While Masseria's regular menu will set you back $62 for three courses, Emanuel promises his breakfast pop-up will offer "diner prices." "I don't want this to be a high-end restaurant where only yuppies can go to eat," he says. The proceeds will benefit Martha's Table, Good Food Awards, and D.C. Central Kitchen.
"It's a total challenge. I can get up in front of 4,000, 5,000 people and lecture and be perfectly calm. I don't get nervous. I do TV, no problem," Emanuel says. "This is so scary."
This may not be the last time you see Emanuel in a restaurant kitchen. He has long lamented the breakfast scene in D.C. ("The city has no breakfast joints! It's terrible!") and vowed to do something about it someday.
"I used to joke with everyone saying when I retire I'm going to do a breakfast joint in Washington," he says.
Top photo by Jessica Sidman. Portrait photo by Candace diCarlo.