Sampling the works of a new chef at any restaurant is a welcome diversion. But when a well-loved neighborhood destination ups the ante by hiring a dynamic young lady, patrons should really take notice. The restaurant, Bistro Vivant in McLean, is being treated to an upscale array of dishes by its new executive chef, Katie Busch.
A native of Philadelphia, Busch says she knew from a very early age that all she really wanted to do was to cook. “Cooking was my favorite thing to do when I was younger,” she said. Despite the presence of her three older brothers, she took over doing kitchen chores, doing the cooking and baking for the family. Fortunately, she said, her mother gave her free rein to let her cook on her own, not requiring that she share any of the cooking with her brothers. “I did my own thing,” she said.
But as it was, the young Busch ended up cooking for a family of six. By the time she was 9 years old, her stepbrother told her she really should think of becoming a professional cook. “That’s exactly how it all started,” she said.
Busch credits this early exposure to cooking for shaping her for the culinary world. By the time she was 15 years old, she got a job at a small family Italian restaurant near her father’s home, called Primavera Italian Kitchen, “I remember watching the guys on the line cooking, and I was mesmerized,” she said. “That was my first cooking job as a prep cook and more or less a gofer for the big boys.” She remembered fetching items for their mise en place or picking up equipment such as a mixing bowl or rubber spatula for a busy chef, adding that that is the sort of beginner’s job most interns experience. Sadly, that restaurant is no longer open.
While still attending regular high school, Busch studied at the Center for Arts and Technology at the Brandywine campus in Coatesville, Pa., a vocational-technical high school. “I felt like I was able to get the best of both worlds,” she said. “Once I had been accepted into the vocational-technical high school, I was finally happy to be at school. I was able to compete in cooking competitions, make connections for culinary schools I wouldn’t have otherwise made, and to learn my craft hands-on in the morning, while juggling a high academic profile, volunteering, fulfilling externships at local hotels and restaurants in the afternoon.”
Later on, Busch attended The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia, noting that she had a pick of four different majors: culinary, pastry arts, restaurant management and hotel management. She selected the culinary major, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in specialized technology. Ultimately, she became a junior member of the American Culinary Federation. After graduation, and continuing to work in the restaurant world, Busch said she still has not picked a favorite cuisine as a specialty. “Most of my experiences have been at progressive American restaurants,” she said. “These are my favorite because I can work with any cuisine and ethnicity. And I like that. I have endless opportunities and different types of food to work with.”
For Busch, it has been all about learning kitchen techniques. Consider the experiences she has had in the past 10 years: executive chef at Hospoda, sous chef at Aureole by Charlie Palmer and David Burke Townhouse, all in New York; competing in culinary contests; cooking at the James Beard House in New York five or six times; opening multiple restaurants with chef Christopher Lee, as well as cooking for all sorts of charity events, and food and wine events — the list goes on and on.
Clearly Busch brings to this new job a degree of professionalism reflected in her refining of Bistro Vivant’s menu. While retaining the seasonality required for top-notch ingredients and the Frenchness of many of the dishes, Busch has added a few twists of her own to the dinner menu: the boeuf bourguignon; a show-stopping braised lamb shank served atop three different beans; and a revised duck leg confit finished with cream, Dijon mustard, green and black peppercorns, brandy and lemon juice. Finally, she has introduced a pan-roasted lobster cooked in its shell.
As for ingredients, this energetic young chef heads to the Sunday Dupont Circle market for primo goods. “Whatever they have that looks cool and taste good,” she said. “I do the shopping there at the market.”