- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 11, 2007

Variety may be the spice of life, but for Frank Morales, spices are his life.

Mr. Morales has been hired as executive chef at Rustico Restaurant in Old Town Alexandria, where he seeks to continue what he calls a “celebration of everyday food.”

At Rustico, customers can choose from a wide selection of rotisserie meats, seafood and homemade pizzas. The neighborhood eatery also features a beer bar with nearly 250 brews.

Mr. Morales enjoys the innovative aspect of being a chef and plans to resurrect some old-time recipes.

“I get to discover new products [like] artisan cheese, great hams and time-honored traditions,” he said of his job. “We’ve gotten away from traditions. We need to get back to rediscovering the past.”

Before the 39-year-old chef signed on with Rustico this month, he worked at several noted New York restaurants, including Union Pacific, as sous chef under Rocco DiSpirito, Le Cirque under Sylvan Portay and An American Place under Larry Lorgione. Most recently, he worked at Zola and the Oval Room in Northwest.

“Frank is the ideal chef in every way: professional, passionate and dedicated to perfection,” said Michael Babin, co-owner of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group to which Rustico belongs. “I knew the moment that we met that I had found not only the perfect person to head the kitchen at Rustico, but also a partner who understood the concept and could enhance it going forward.”

Mr. Morales said the best part of his new job begins early in the morning, when he prepares the day’s meats and sauces with help from his kitchen staff of six to eight persons.

Mr. Morales especially enjoys the stone hearth oven and hickory wood-burning grill that give the restaurant its down-home flavor. “Starting the fire is a wonderful start to my day,” he said.

The days ahead, however, will have their challenges.

“It can be challenging getting people to realize that even though we’re a moderately priced restaurant, we still offer the highest quality products and have access to the finest Mid-Atlantic resources,” Mr. Morales said.

Rustico specializes in classic American dishes, but Mr. Morales’ tastes extend far beyond U.S. borders. He has traveled throughout South America, Europe and the Far East. One of his favorite finds is a chili crab dish he discovered at a Singapore street vendor.

Mr. Morales, a native New Yorker, has lived in the Washington area for nearly five years. He said he appreciates the “incredibly well-traveled group of people” this region attracts.

After receiving bachelor’s degrees in business economics and psychology from State University of New York at Oneonta in 1989, he graduated from the Culinary Institute of Arts in 1995. He financed his studies by working in restaurants as a food preparer.

“A mentor once told me that if you want to learn, [you] work your way through the lowest jobs,” Mr. Morales said.

He picked up several tools of the trade at a young age.

“My father was always in the kitchen. I learned to cook with my dad,” said Mr. Morales. “He was my inspiration.”

Mr. Morales lives in Silver Spring with his wife, Beth, and their two children, Sophia and Justin.

— Rachel Buller

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