Those familiar with LINCOLN Chef Demetrio Zavala’s style and meteoric rise as a Chopped Champion on The Food Network know that his wholesome and locally-sourced menus are filled with passion and bursting with flavor. His special event menus feature nutritious, delicious and humanely sourced food, and make sure even those following the strictest diets are able to cut loose and enjoy themselves.
To better understand how a client’s private event vision feeds Zavala’s obsession with creating amazing new recipes, we asked him series of questions.
Meet the Mastermind Behind LINCOLN’s Innovative Menus
Q: How do you create a menu for a corporate event based on a client’s event goals?
Z: For our private events, I always try to include something for everyone. Every private dining client I’ve worked with in DC – without exception – wants everyone on their guest list to feel included and catered to. As a restaurant specializing in private events, the team at LINCOLN Restaurant knows that the health-savvy Washingtonian crowd increasingly requires vegetarian and gluten-free dishes as staples, not options. Because of my training in a variety of cooking techniques, I can spice mushrooms so they taste just like chorizo in a vegetarian dish. I make a bacon-cured squash that gets rave reviews – every vegetarian misses bacon!
When creating a menu for a private event, I make a plan to appeal to every type of person in attendance. If it’s a luncheon for ladies, I know I need to provide some great salads. If the crowd will be heavy on men, like Washingtonian’s recent DC Top Dentists Event at sister restaurant Teddy & The Bully Bar, steak definitely fills the bill. I only use the best seasonally available produce, the food available to us here at our local DC area fisheries, farms and purveyors during the current season. This means we don’t serve asparagus in winter, for example.
My training and experience with Cuban, Mexican, Peruvian, Chinese, Japanese, French and Italian cuisine means I can customize any menu to make it exciting and fresh.
Q: Do companies ever ask you to use a logo or marketing materials throughout an event? How do you work with a company or organization’s brand to create a truly special corporate event that conveys the right message?
Z: Definitely. This happens especially at the launch parties we host. Our Events Director Jeanhee Kim does a great job making sure our venue reflects the brand and ideas we are working with – through everything from napkins to signage and decor to handouts. At LINCOLN, our Emancipation Wall can be back-lit with colors to complement an organization’s theme colors or logo. I infuse that message into the food. Sometimes there’s an inspiring ingredient, like a pineapple, in their logo. It’s fun to intersperse that throughout the event in both dishes and decor, so the company or organization really feels it is “their” event from start to finish.
Q: What is your favorite dish that you’ve prepared for a corporate event? What are some of your clients’ favorite dishes?
Z: Here in DC for private dining, people still love traditional meals. In Washington, DC we’re sophisticated and multi-cultural, but in our bones we’re still a very steak-and-potatoes town! I enjoy making steak and frites in a straightforward way, but I can also add things like smoked red pepper romesco, rosemary and thyme frites or a spinach puree. People love tradition infused with a little of the unexpected, so making barbecue braised in chimichuri, an Argentinian American staple, adds a layer of flavors to the traditional meat-and-potatoes meal. These are the unexpected flavors people comment on.
Q: Has the gluten-free trend changed the way you cook for private events?
Z: For today’s private dining in DC, we try to make almost everything gluten-free as a rule. Gluten-free isn’t odd anymore; it’s a way of life and the expectation is that we can provide this for our clientele. I typically save any gluten for the condiments and garnishes, which can be taken off of the main dish.
Q: Are there any new food-related practices people are observing that you’re really on board with for your cooking?
Z: Getting meat in the middle eastern “Halal” style has recently become more popular here stateside, and for good reason. Animal activists support getting meat in cruelty-free ways, and the Halal cow has a more peaceful death than she would with the traditional style of butchering. Connoisseurs and foodies have also started requesting Halal meat because it just tastes better. I personally support any move towards more humane treatment of animals. It’s good for everyone.
Q: How do you collaborate with your mixologists and sommelier to create a wine/drink pairing that enhances a client’s private event experience?
Z: As a chef who’s allergic to alcohol, I don’t drink, so I do need to work closely with the mixologists and sommelier. I get the characteristics or “flavor profile” of the wine from the sommelier, like oaky, cinnamon, fig nuances. I can then match the food accordingly. With a mixed drink or signature cocktail, I play off of the juices and other ingredients used and flavor profile of the spirits.
Q: What is the biggest private event food trend you’ve seen for 2017?
Z: This year everyone is doing healthy options. Everyone is still on a kale kick, and big into marinated fish. Korean style Poke Bowls are hot, and we recently did a Latino event that featured ceviche. Private events always have the option of incorporating our raw bar, which is a great appetizer and always a hit in seafood-loving DC.
Q: With summer and warm temperatures here, how do you plan food that works well outdoors – both passed & plated?
Z: The answer is always to get the freshest ingredients available, so they stand up to the heat. Tomatoes and peaches taste best when served at room temperature, so I work with both a lot. It’s always fun to put our raw bar or floating ceviche bar outside on the patio.
The unique dishes that come out of LINCOLN’s kitchen, made from farm-fresh ingredients and delivered straight to the table, continue to amaze corporate events planners around the DC area. Chef Zavala is expert at infusing dishes with his own brand of creativity. Private events at LINCOLN restaurant go above and beyond; with every private event we aim to:
- reflect the sensibility of our nation’s capital
- pay homage to the country’s 16th POTUS
- honor your company or organization’s vision for your private event, and
- delight everyone at the table.
Whether you are looking to host a simple cocktail party at our bar, or an elaborate Christmas or holiday party, LINCOLN has the delicious food and beautiful venue your staff will remember for years to come.