|Executive chef Patrick Dinh at Tuscarora Mill Restaurant in Leesburg. Times-Mirror File Photo/Abigail Pheiffer|
Considering that Patrick Dinh, executive chef of Leesburg’s Tuscarora Mill restaurant, has been featured in the books “Best Chefs of America” and “Celebrated Chefs,” he certainly seems like a low-profile kind of guy.
In fact, at one meeting, Dinh came with his iconic baseball cap pulled low over his forehead – part of his chef’s garb, of course, and something he took off.
But rather than being just one of the guys, Dinh stands out for his unique cooking style, which he labels as “global.”
“Just look at our menu,” he says. “We serve fried green tomatoes, Asian spring rolls, fried Korean pork belly and Tex-Mex flank steak salad... I like food to have a cultural point on the plate. It’s not fusion, but true to the roots of the dish.”
Today he is a renowned local chef, but as a youth growing up in D.C., cooking was about the furthest goal from his life plan. True, both parents were skilled cooks – his mother perfected traditional Vietnamese dishes, and his father, who owned a delicatessen in Georgetown, had both a European and a Vietnamese palate. He taught his young son all about the French-Vietnamese traditions of his family, often serving such classics as osso bucco and Beef Wellington at the dinner table.
In college at George Washington University, Dinh majored in finance, a practical education. To earn pocket money, he worked in the now-closed Italian restaurant Vivandi as a waiter. After he had his first job interview with a local bank, when he told personnel he wanted to own a restaurant one day, Dinh realized that cooking, not banking, held his future plans.
“I was 23 years and late one night I had a moment of clarity and decided that I would wholeheartedly pursue cooking as a lifelong career," he said.
So he decided to ask for kitchen work at Vivandi. The executive chef called him crazy, but the sous chef gave Dinh a place in the kitchen doing prep work. His next kitchen break was in California, where for about one year he worked with celebrity chef Jeremiah Towers at his then-restaurant, Stars.
“He was a real character,” says Dinh, “It was demanding work, but he taught me that to succeed, a chef must surround himself with talented staff.”
After leaving California, Dinh moved back to D.C., where he worked in various local restaurants until he answered an ad for his current position at Tuscarora Mill – affectionately known to locals as Tuskies. That was 20-plus years ago, in the days when Loudoun County was a fraction of what it is today.
“"I barely knew enough then how to be a chef, but I've learned a ton over the years from fellow chefs, reading and eating,” says Dinh, who notes that what he creates today incorporates better techniques and better ingredients than before.
Dinh may attribute his longevity and culinary success to several factors, which would likely include that his father taught him how to appreciate food; the formative work in California with Towers; and his decision many years ago at Tuskies to never be complacent in the kitchen. “We are always on a learning curve,” he says, which accounts for the success of his always evolving, always inventive menus.
203 Harrison St. SE
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday, Saturday to midnight, Sunday to 9 p.m.
Patrick Dinh’s Fried Green Tomatoes with burrata, arugula, tomato-dill vinaigrette and fresh basil
For the dressing:
1 cup fresh diced tomatoes
¾ cup tomato juice
½ cup white wine vinegar, preferably champagne
2 shallots, finely diced
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
1 tablespoon Montreal steak seasoning
1 teaspoon minced garlic
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
Mix everything but the oil in mixing bowl. While whisking, slowly add the olive oil until combined. Set aside.
For the fried green tomatoes:
Twelve 3/8th-inch-thick slices of medium-sized green tomatoes (about three medium green tomatoes)
2 cups flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 eggs, whisked with ¼ cup buttermilk or regular milk
One 8-ounce ball burrata
4 ounces baby arugula
Fresh basil leaves, torn, for garnish
Discard the ends of tomatoes or use for something like green tomato salsa. Dredge both sides of the tomato slices in the seasoned flour, and dip into the egg/milk mixture. Once well coated with egg/milk mixture, return to the seasoned flour and dredge again. Place coated tomato slices on a plate until ready to cook. Set aside.
To cook, pour enough oil into a 12-inch skillet to cover the bottom by about one-quarter inch. Heat the oil over medium heat until it begins to shimmer, about 350 degrees. Carefully place dredged tomato slices into oil and fry two minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels.
To serve, arrange the arugula on four plates. Place three slices of tomatoes on each plate. Slice the burrata into four sections, then divide each section on to each slice. Dress with the tomato-dill vinaigrette and sprinkle with torn basil leaves. Serve immediately.