There is a new executive chef at Canlis.
The prestigious restaurant is banking its future on its first chef, who is neither white nor male. This leader breaks down barriers and finds a home as West Washington becomes real.
It’s just an ordinary Friday in the kitchen of this 70-year-old gourmet destination, but there is nothing ordinary about Aisha Ibrahim.
Ibrahim, a Filipino, is Canlis’ new chef.
He was asked if this fact was important.
“It’s important,” Ibrahim said, “Yeah, I think you own who you are on so many levels. Everyone was like, ‘Oh, you’re Filipino. You’re weird. You’re brown. wife.’ I’m like “yeah.” “You’re an immigrant.” I’m like, ‘yes.’ All of these things. All of these things are important. Because it’s something that I’ve really grown to be proud of.
Ibrahim cooked in Bangkok, Thailand, regularly receiving and turning down job offers, and even considering opening his own restaurant.
Then the pandemic hit and Canlis came to call.
“I tried to do due diligence on them, and I asked around,” Ibrahim said. “And I couldn’t find anything negative about the program, which is so rare in gastronomy.”
They also did their due diligence, while interviewing other predominantly male, predominantly white chefs.
Mark Canlis says the choice basically boiled down to a seven-course meal that Ibrahim cooked for his team and trusted his instincts.
“So you’re kind of like wrestling with it, a bit,” Canlis said. “And pretty quickly you fall in love. You’re like, ‘It’s just good. I don’t need to separate it. I love that.'”
It was, he said, like a courtship of several months.
Ibrahim was the only chef they offered the job to.
“And we were really hoping she would say yes,” he said with a laugh.
There is plenty of evidence that Canlis is not the restaurant it once was, as the pandemic has tested its owners like the rest of us. So maybe it is appropriate that they entrust their future to something, to someone brand new.
“The restaurant that we are opening, I consider it to be a whole new restaurant than the one that we have closed,” Canlis said.
A restaurant now in the hands of a 35-year-old chef who cut his teeth in the world of cooking, who happens to be an immigrant from the Philippines.
“Will that show in the food, necessarily?” Ibrahim asked. “I don’t know. I first want to express the products of this region and some cultural influences to reflect the fact that it is a gateway city to Asia.
“Being able to live in an American city with a long history of that. I grew up in West Virginia. I did not have access to it. It’s pretty amazing to me that there were Filipino owned businesses in the 1950s here. It’s exciting for me.
An excitement that will soon be fully on display in his new restaurant home.
Canlis never completely closed its doors during the pandemic. The owners have turned to take-out, cooking up burgers, serving meals out, all to stay afloat.
Now they plan to reopen their traditional dining room on July 1.
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