From the seasonally-inspired dishes he creates every day in his award-winning restaurant to his ongoing support for sustainable farming and fishing practices, Chef Todd Gray’s impact on Washington, D.C.’s culinary scene has been immeasurable. A five time nominee for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic Award he is as widely known for his exquisite cuisine as his effervescent personality and dedication to working with and promoting local and regional purveyors. Together with his wife/business partner Ellen Kassoff Gray, Todd owns and operates one of the East Coast’s premier dining destinations, Equinox Restaurant. Just last month the DC power couple decided to embark on a West Coast culinary adventure. Here is an excerpt of Ellen and Todd talking about their experience:
2014 has been a landmark year for us in more ways than one. In addition to celebrating milestone birthdays (50 for both of us), we also celebrated the 15th anniversary of our beloved Washington DC restaurant, Equinox.
A culinary couple through and through, we have spent the past few decades immersed in the very best this country’s food industry has to offer. We have had the opportunity to collaborate with some of the most talented people and incredible organizations in the world. Todd has had the pleasure of cooking for President Barack Obama and the First Lady as they celebrated Mrs. Obama’s birthday and subsequently worked with Mrs. Obama on her Healthy Kids Initiative. We have traveled to the Virgin Islands to participate in the St. Croix Food & Wine Festival alongside chefs like Sam Choy and Tony Castellucci. We’ve partnered with renowned breweries and wineries like Goose Island to create exquisite dining events and tasting menus. At Equinox we have hosted celebrities, politicians and national power players like Bono, LeBron James, Carrie Underwood, Tom Brokaw and Hillary Clinton. In recent years, we proudly founded Washington DC’s original gourmet vegan brunch at the famous Corcoran Gallery of Art. Todd was named to the Inaugural Norwegian Seafood Council US Culinary Board and we traveled to Norway to learn about the country’s sustainable fishing practices.
At this point in our careers (and our lives as foodies) we have been lucky enough to dine at the best and most celebrated restaurants in the world. We decided we wanted to “go off the grid.” The concept was relatively simple: rent an RV and spend 10 days driving along the West Coast searching for culinary gems along the way. Bringing our 14-year-old son, Harrison, with us made it a family affair and that much more meaningful.
Our adventure started in Northern California’s wine country. We flew to Napa, CA where Todd had been asked to participate in Bouchaine Vineyard’s Celebrity Chef Demo & Dining Series. The alfresco dining event was held on the property’s idyllic garden deck and featured live entertainment and a custom menu with wine pairings from Bouchaine.
Following the event, we headed to Fremont, CA, hopped into the RV we had rented from RV Adventure USA and hit the road! Over the next week and half we literally ate and drank our way through the West Coast, stopping periodically to “glamp” at pre-determined spots along the way. While our days were filled with great experiences from beginning to end one of the most unforgettable (and delicious) was the time we spent catching, cooking and eating salmon at a fish camp along the coast. Located on an Indian reservation in the tiny town of Klamath, CA this third generation fish camp is the real deal. James Bansemer of Gold River Guides helped us catch fresh salmon, clean it and cook it in a variety of ways. We foraged for ingredients like fresh fennel, which we used to season the fish. An on-site smoker, which was built by the fish camp community, smoked salmon for 36 hours – the result was simply mouthwatering! For our son (a true urban teenager) catching a 14-lb. chinook salmon and then watching his father grill for dinner what he had just caught was a memorable experience. There are a lot of firsts in life and this was definitely one for our family.