Though he bears the distinguished title of executive chef at Plume, the überluxe restaurant inside The Jefferson, Washington, DC, Chris Jakubiec wasn’t born crafting the rabbit rillettes and Shishito-flecked hamachi tartare that grace his inspired American menu with Continental influence. Instead, the 35-year-old readily admits, “I was picky with a lot of foods... but my mother made me eat what was on my plate.”
That prodding included holiday dinners, although a young Jakubiec needed less encouragement to nosh on family feasts with his father’s side of the family (always for Christmas Eve) and his mother’s side (always for Christmas Day) in his hometown of Middletown, Connecticut. “Every year my mom and grandmom would cook the same things: prime rib or beef tenderloin, green beans, twice-baked potatoes, [and] stuffed shrimp, which was always my favorite. They were stuffed with crushed Ritz crackers, shallots deglazed with vermouth, lots of butter, Parmesan cheese, garlic, and fresh herbs.”
Fancy, especially for the mid-’80s, but Jakubiec’s mother is a lifelong cook and caterer who owned a deli/eatery when the budding chef was a kid. “I put in a lot of free hours there when I was in high school. I’d go early in the morning, bake off cookies, brew coffee. During the holidays, she’d sell lobster ravioli with sauce Américaine. I’d be making the scallop and fish mousse, folding in the chunks of lobster, making the sauce with the lobster shells.”
Drawing on those childhood experiences, Jakubiec has created a cornucopia of dishes for Plume’s holiday menus, including lightly truffled lobster bisque and prime rib of beef with herbed popovers. The restaurant, set behind majestic wrought-iron gates in the Jefferson’s marble lobby, puts out quite the spread on December 24 and 25, featuring straightforward menus with multiple choices per course, so merrymakers can design their own tastings from Jakubiec’s repertoire of seasonally driven recipes. “At Plume during the holidays, I keep it very similar to what my family did,” he explains. “People are in town with their families, and you have the same issues I did growing up, with picky eaters in the group. So we try to keep it simple and offer a few options for each course we think our guests are going to enjoy.”
Jakubiec also creates a variety of off-menu dishes for private dinners with advance notice, with some inspired by the hotel’s namesake. For instance, founding father Thomas Jefferson reportedly introduced pasta to the United States, so the chef can serve a decadent macaroni and cheese laced with black truffles and Virginia country ham. Similarly, custards were the de rigueur desserts of early 1800s France—and Jefferson’s favorite was crème brûlée—so Jakubiec can honor that history with a holiday-spiced version of the classic treat decorated with candied orange zest.
Diners who sample these delicacies tend to smile while they eat—and so does Jakubiec. He’s come a long way from studying biological science at the University of Vermont. After charting a new path in culinary arts, he worked at a tiny vegan restaurant near his hometown, studied at New York’s International Culinary Center (once known as the French Culinary Institute), and cooked with his mentor, Damon Gordon, at high-end hotels in Manhattan, Miami, and San Diego, before eventually coming to the Jefferson. Executive chef since April 2011, Jakubiec has infused his witty, modern sensibility into the menu at Plume and its sister establishment, Quill, the hotel’s cozy cocktail bar.
“If you’re going to come out for dinner around the holidays, you can’t beat a setting like this,” says Jakubiec of the festive—and decidedly grand—atmosphere provided by his home base at Plume. “I don’t know what your Christmas dinner was like, but I know at mine we didn’t use Bernardaud china and Christolfe crystal.” 1200 16th St. NW, 202-448-2300