The Tasting Panel magazine

December 2014

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Page 69 of 136

december 2014  /  the tasting panel  /  69 PREP A NORTHERN VIRGINIA ENGINEER-TURNED- CHEF FINDS CULINARY SUCCESS IN THE NICK OF TIME, ON HIS TERMS by Kelly A. Magyarics H is story looks straight out of a movie script. Encouraged by his restaurant industry family to eschew its grueling hours, Tim Ma instead obtained a Master of Science degree and a job in the defense industry in Northern Virginia. Eight years later, he and wife Joey Hernandez sold everything and moved to New York, so he could follow his passion to attend the International Culinary Center. While in Manhattan, he took a stint at David Chang's momofuku ko, where he learned the logistics of a small kitchen. After gradu- ation, the couple moved back to Northern Virginia, where Ma parlayed skills from his former career into his new one. "As an engineer, I learned people management skills, and the mentality of career switchers." He also grasped the distinction between a cook and a chef—the latter balancing cooking with managing a business and staff. 2009, Ma began leasing a building in Vienna, Virginia and elicited help from friends and family to turn it into Maple Ave Restaurant. Its initial menu was designed "to please the masses," but some evenings the chef and employees were the only diners. After four months, he was no longer able to cover his operating expenses and decided to overhaul the menu to cook what he wanted. His sister gave him a loan—a check he never had to cash, as he began making enough money the next day to cover costs. Soon after, The Washington Post gave the restaurant a favorable review. Today, half of its 28 seats have standing reservations every Friday evening. His culinary approach is rooted in French and Asian, demon- strated by dishes like umami-rich Buffalo-inspired wings where crème fraîche stands-in for bleu cheese, and a "dichotomy dish" of scallops and coconut risotto topped with basil ice cream. "I don't want to flip the menu too often," he admits. "I want one that keeps them coming back." Occasionally, Maple Ave offers menu development–driven tasting tables, where six diners experience multi-courses with themes ranging from offal to Burmese. "Guest expectations are high, so we push ourselves," he says. In the fall of 2013, Ma opened Water & Wall in Arlington, Virginia, an 80-seat restaurant with a decid- edly more American menu (the name is a nod to the intersection where he and Hernandez lived in New York). He cross trains staff so each becomes well-versed in working in a small kitchen—just like he did at momofuku ko. Next up is a sandwich shop that will offer traditional and "experimental" sandwiches. "Fast casual is the lighter style of cooking for chefs." PHOTO: REY LOPEZ UNDER A BUSHEL PHOTOGRAPHY Tim Ma, MAPLE AVE RESTAURANT AND WATER & WALL

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