Is D.C. Food 'Southern'? Chef Jeremiah Langhorne Opens Up About the City's Food Culture
"The one big identifying factor of Southern food, whether it's Lowcountry or New Orleans, is that the cuisine is very intertwined with ingredients from that region."
At The Dabney in Washington D.C., chef Jeremiah Langhorne celebrates the bounty of the mid-Atlantic in an entirely wood-fire-powered kitchen, where his thoughtful, understated cooking has earned him a Michelin star. Langhorne, who opened The Dabney in 2015, has enjoyed watching the city's dining scene blossom into something spectacularly diverse, in large part thanks to residents supporting all levels of dining.
"Ten years ago, the best restaurants in D.C. and most of the country were ones that were super high-end with high check averages and white table cloths," Langhorne tells Food & Wine. "That's what people thought the best restaurants were. Now, people are recognizing that something like a little ramen shop can be considered a really good restaurant." He considers The Dabney to fit into this movement, offering high-quality food that "isn't crazy expensive" with a nice vibe.
But when talking about D.C. culinary culture, a question often emerges: Is this Southern food?
"I would say 100 percent it can be considered Southern food," says Langhorne, pointing out that historically, anything under the Mason-Dixon line is considered the South.
"D.C. has also always been tied into Virginia and Maryland, both of which are historically Southern states, not necessarily geographically, but the traditions of agriculture and food, and everything concerning the existence of someone in the 1700s and 1800s," he says. "From a culinary perspective, the one big identifying factor of Southern food, whether it's low country or New Orleans, is that the cuisine is very intertwined with ingredients from that region."
Langhorne, who was born in Virginia, cites the bounty of the Chesapeake Bay, in which D.C. cuisine is deeply rooted. He adds, "There's the Piedmont region of Virginia, and the Plains region of Maryland, and even some Appalachian influences mixed in there, too. D.C. is a perfect place to represent all of that."
After spending five years as chef de cuisine under Sean Brock at McCrady's in Charleston and apprenticing at Noma, Langhorne opened his first solo project, The Dabney. Currently, he's the long-term "Chef-in-Residence" at Chefs Club in the Nolita neighborhood of N.Y.C. (until March 31), serving dishes like smoked catfish dip, crispy pig ear lettuce wraps and foie gras biscuits. He says cooking in Manhattan makes him feel somewhat like a "country mouse that's wandered into the city"— and it's actually the most time he's spent outside of D.C. in years—but he's loved getting a pulse on the city's dining scene.
Looking ahead, Langhorne anticipates the culinary rise of mid-tier cities, like D.C., across the country.
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"In cities that are so competitive with such high rents and high turnover, it's hard for a restaurant to want to do something that pushes the envelope," he says. "In smaller cities, where the community is welcoming new restaurants and developing their culinary scene, people are more likely to do something totally different and new."