Executive Chef Nicolas Legret of The Hay-Adams answers our questions about his passions and why the hotel has long been, and continues to be, a must-visit for both diners and drinkers in Washington, D.C.
When Nicolas Legret was named the executive chef of the Hay-Adams in 2016, he was already intimately familiar with the celebrated and historic Washington, D.C. property: He’d served as its chef de cuisine since 2009. Now, having recently celebrated two years at the helm, critics and diners agree the hotel’s restaurants are in good hands, continuing to offer the combination of flawless service and creative American cuisine that has long distinguished it. We sat down recently with Legret to learn about his story, where he finds his inspiration, and what excites him about the capital’s culinary scene today.
What first sparked your interest in the culinary arts?
As a young child I grew up in a small village located in the center of France called Saint-Victor-de-Buthon. My family would grow our own fresh fruits and vegetables in a garden in our backyard. I first found my interest in cuisine around the age of 12 while helping my mom make crepes and jam for our family gatherings. This was always a family favorite dish.
Where and how did you hone your skills?
My skills really started to flourish at the age of 16 during my three years at the Blois Restaurant School in 1988. Located in the center of France, the school was known for its outstanding reputation and it was also located near my home town. I received my C.A.P Classic French Cuisine and upon graduation, I worked in France at luxury hotels. These hotels included the two-star Michelin restaurants at the Hôtel Le Bristol and the Hôtel Le Crillon, and the two-star Michelin restaurant Le Grand Vefour, all located in Paris.
Where do you find inspiration for your creations?
My inspiration comes from exploring D.C, especially visiting the local markets, which have grown significantly over the last few years. We now have more than 30 farmer’s markets in the city, and they are great resources for finding new and fresh ingredients. I also work with some wonderful local suppliers who share with me their new products and the latest trends.
What are you most excited about in the emerging D.C. culinary scene?
What excites me most about Washington D.C is the fresh, fun, and diverse international cuisine. The variety, consistency, and depth of our restaurant scene keeps growing and changing, and as a capital city, we are always embracing new cultures. Growing up in Perche, France, I did not have all of the exposure to foods of different cultures that D.C. offers. Today, chefs from all around the world come to D.C to work, and it’s really expanded our food scene.
If you only had one day in D.C., what would you do?
Washington D.C has so many great things to offer, especially art and culture. I have always enjoyed the Smithsonian National Gallery of Art which is one of the oldest public buildings in the city. Apart from the prestigious art works, I enjoy relaxing on the calm and peaceful patio. It’s great for reading the paper or a book while enjoying a fresh cup of coffee.
What attracted you to The Hay-Adams?
The name, reputation, and location says it all. This is such an iconic hotel and with one of the most prestigious addresses in the city, I’d heard of the hotel long before moving to D.C. Working in an independent hotel also provides the opportunity to continually change and evolve, we can create and customize menus and experiences, we can stay current while also embracing our history. It’s a dynamic environment!
What distinguishes The Lafayette and Off the Record from other D.C. dining experiences?
Elegant is the first word that comes to mind when I think of the Lafayette restaurant. Guests can gaze out of our large windows at a stunning view of Lafayette Park and the White House. Our team also sets us apart, as some of our restaurant staff have been serving our guests for over 20 years. They personalize the service and make our guests feel right at home.
Off The Record is one of D.C.’s hidden gems. You can enjoy a delicious classic cocktail, and never have to worry about striking up conversation. Our bar is covered with political caricatures by well-known D.C. cartoonists, and along with our coasters being the talk of the town [the hotel commissions political cartoonists to create limited edition coasters portraying various D.C. leaders], it helps make it a true locals’ hangout.
With the help of our ever growing city, trends, staff, and our local vendors, The Hay-Adams is continuously updating and offering new and exciting experiences for our guests.