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Chef Danny Lledó on tradition, creativity, and coming back stronger than before

Cover Image for Chef Danny Lledó on tradition, creativity, and coming back stronger than before
By Sophie Brochu
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In March of 2020, Washington, DC’s Xiquet had only been open for two weeks when the pandemic hit. Like restaurant owners everywhere, chef Danny Lledó was forced to close his doors. But Lledó didn’t sit back. He spent the year serving ambitious Spanish fine dining tasting menus in takeout format, hosting Valencian paella classes over Zoom, and leading virtual wine tastings (Lledó is also a certified sommelier). Now, Xiquet is back and stronger than before with a brand new Michelin star. See what this celebrated chef is up to now.

Tock: Can you take us through this past year? What challenges did you overcome, and in what ways did you come out stronger?

Lledó: This past year was awful. I can’t think of anything worse happening to our world or to our industry than what has happened over the last 13 months. For years, I dreamed of opening Xiquet. I worked so hard to build this dream, and just two weeks after we finally opened in March 2020, a worldwide pandemic was declared. We’ve had to stay flexible and be ready to pivot on a moment’s notice as the dining room was opened and closed repeatedly by local government orders. We had to design a takeout menu, and figure out how to diversify our income streams with virtual wine tastings and paella classes. It was incredibly challenging. But at the end of it, our team has come out even stronger than before. Our Zoom paella classes have helped us reach people all over the country who might not have otherwise been able to get a taste of the Xiquet experience. And as our dining room starts to fill again, our guests tell us that they are even more grateful and appreciative than ever for the service and the delicious food that we provide.

 

“But at the end of it, our team has come out even stronger than before.”

The staff gathers for pre-shift in February 2021.

Tock: Your background is in finance. How did you make the leap to restaurants?

Lledó: My education was in finance, and my first job out of college. But the kitchen is in my DNA. My father was a chef, and I put myself through college working in restaurants. After three years in the financial world, I knew it was not for me, and I went back to my roots, my love—cooking. I wanted to create something special.

Seared scallop with cured Jamon Iberico broth.

Tock: How would you describe traditional Valencian cuisine and how do you honor tradition while cooking in a contemporary way?

Lledó: The flavors of Valencia reflect the region’s warm coastal climate, abundant agriculture, and plentiful fresh seafood. It is also the cradle of the famed Spanish rice dish, paella.

I try to focus on seafood and vegetables in our tasting menu to create a balanced experience. We are a product and execution-focused restaurant, where we focus on elevating the essence of the product versus dressing it with too many ingredients.

Honoring our tradition means staying true to our principles, and values. As an example, we honor our rice dishes by making a distinction between “paellas” on our à la carte menu and our “rice dishes” on our tasting menu. The difference is the paella is an entree, while a rice dish focuses on a product like lobster, caviar, prawn, duck confit, etc. served with delicious rice. At the end of the rice is the protagonist, and we celebrate it, and get creative with products, and make sure execution is at the highest level. To make sure that the rice is the star of every dish, we have to make our dishes at the most optimal level of perfection, with the thinnest layers and caramelizarían to the paella pan, breaking away from the traditional/country style of paellas. Every bite is heavenly.

 

“Honoring our tradition means staying true to our principles, and values.”

Wood-fired paella in the making. Photo by Sarah Matista.

Tock: What products and ingredients are you most excited about right now?

Lledó: In Denia, my hometown, fishermen catch these incredible sweet red prawns. They are the best in the world (and the most expensive.) They taste like the sea and like Spain. Starting in May, Xiquet will be the only place in the United States where you can order or taste them—it took me months to figure out how to import them to Washington. I can’t wait to start incorporating them into our menus.

Duquessa de Denia Paella. Photo by Sarah Matista.

 

Tock: How do you see the hospitality industry changing? What’s next?

Lledó: The pandemic has really forced us all to start thinking outside the box and find ways to reach customers at home. Whether it’s virtual classes, to-go orders, or in-home catering, I think restaurants that never considered those things in the past will have to make these new concepts a permanent part of their models. We’ll see continued improvements in to-go and in-home offerings in the months and years to come.

Chef Danny Lledó and team celebrating a Michelin star.
Book Your Michelin-starred Xiquet Experience Today

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