Danny Lledó: “Maintain a balanced life”

In my experience, what makes customers crazy about a dish, is everything that goes into a dish. In other words the key is the accumulation of the steps to create the dish. I had the pleasure of interviewing international award-winning Chef Danny Lledó. He is the owner of the multi-dining concepts Xiquet by Danny Lledó and […]

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In my experience, what makes customers crazy about a dish, is everything that goes into a dish. In other words the key is the accumulation of the steps to create the dish.

I had the pleasure of interviewing international award-winning Chef Danny Lledó. He is the owner of the multi-dining concepts Xiquet by Danny Lledó and Slate Wine Bar, which are located in Glover Park at 2404 Wisconsin Ave, NW, 20007. Lledó’s cooking is strongly influenced by his Mediterranean heritage. He is proud to continue the family tradition of culinary excellence, following in the footsteps of his father, who is an accomplished chef from Denia, Spain. Lledó also honed his restaurant skills working at top Spanish restaurants: José Andrés’ Think Food Group, Taberna del Alabardero and Botin (known for being the world’s oldest restaurant).

Currently the most awarded paella chef in America, Lledó has accumulated eleven paella honors including six first place awards: Best Paella at the Paella Wine & Beer Festival in Los Angeles, California in October 2016 and October 2018 and at PaellaFest in Washington, D.C. in May 2019; People’s Choice Paella at the Paella Wine & Beer Festival in Orange County, California in August 2017; the Best Valencian Paella at the Paella Wine & Beer in San Diego, California in May 2018 and in Los Angeles, California in October 2018, and at PaellaFest in Washington, D.C. in May 2019. Lledó’s wins on the West Coast have garnered more invitations for him to compete internationally. He competed as a finalist at the prestigious Paella Valenciana de Sueca International Competition in September 2018, as a finalist of Fideua de Gandia International Competition in May 2019, and again at the Paella Valenciana de Sueca International Competition in September 2019, where he received the Accèsit award.

Lledó’s Portuguese and Spanish heritage combined with his passion for food, wine and hospitality. This service mindset complements his other talent — a strong foundation from his professional background in finance. While Lledó’s cooking resonates with guests and colleagues alike, he is also comfortable presiding over a board meeting, in public speaking and media appearances, and leading a wine tasting.

A graduate of the University of Maryland in College Park, Lledó worked for three years in the financial industry, creating his own consulting company, VLC Advisory. He consulted on business ventures, real estate transactions, and the hospitality industry — specializing in restaurants. This melding of interests eventually drew him back into his first love — creating delicious dishes and sharing them. In 2012, Lledó decided to return to the family vocation. He made the transition to restaurant owner and managing director of Fancy Hospitality, purchasing his first restaurant Crush Kitchen & Winehouse in Annapolis, Maryland. In 2013, Lledó took over management of Slate Wine Bar in the Glover Park neighborhood of Washington, D.C. In July 2019, Lledó closed Slate Wine Bar so it could be reimagined as a fresh new wine bar destination with small plates, creative cocktails, updated décor, and an excellent assortment of fine wines.

In February 2020, Lledó opened Xiquet, which serves as the next chapter of his culinary career. Xiquet is the culmination of years of menu development and perfecting the wood-fire cooking techniques inspired by his Denía heritage. Xiquet is a fine dining experience that transports guests to the coast of Valencia with authentic ingredients, five and eight-course tasting menu options, and a curated selection of fine wines and spirits.

Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restauranteur or chef?​

My father inspired me to become a chef. He was a great chef that grew up in Denia, Spain, moved to Paris and went to culinary school there, where he specialized in Spanish and French cuisine. He shared that passion for cooking with me and I knew at a young age I wanted to follow in his footsteps.

Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?

I focus on Spanish cuisine, specifically from the Valencia region. Spending part of my life in Denia, I had the opportunity to witness how food brings people together. So much of my family and friends were involved in different parts of the food industry. My uncle had a commercial fishing boat, a few of my aunts had farms, and close friends of mine had restaurants that bought fish, meats and vegetables from my family. It was a cool and unique thing to be able to see the whole process come together like that.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef or restauranteur? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

Interestingly enough, once I was asked to come out of the kitchen to talk to a customer, and it turns out that he thought he knew me because he worked with my father at Ridgewells Catering! Once I confirmed to him who I was, he stood up, shook my hand, and said that my father would be proud of me. You really never know who you are going to serve in the restaurant business!

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?

When given the opportunity to run my first few restaurants, I was excited to take it, but they were both restaurants that needed serious help. Crush Kitchen & Wine house in Annapolis, and Slate Wine Bar, in Glover Park, Washington, D.C. had similar issues. Both restaurants did not start well, and I had to bring them to life without a lot of funding to accomplish that. It took a lot of patience and time (too much time!) to get to where we are today with my first fine-dining restaurant, Xiquet DL. I had to rely on my principles, hard work, and not being afraid of asking for help.

In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?

In my experience, what makes customers crazy about a dish, is everything that goes into a dish. In other words the key is the accumulation of the steps to create the dish.

Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?

My perfect meal is a rice dish called Arrós a Banda. It is rice done with a tasty fish stock with cut pieces of cuttlefish.

Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?

My inspiration comes from many different places. Most of the time I focus on a product that I want to use, and somehow I find other methods of preparations used from other dishes, and incorporate that with the product I want to use.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?

Right now I am beginning to work on another high end concept, showcasing Portuguese food, which I’m really excited to share with the world!

What advice would you give to other chefs or restaurateurs to thrive and avoid burnout?

Maintain a balanced life. That means what when you have a day off, actually use it to rest and rejuvenate! Do activities like going for a walk or bike rides, spend time with your loved ones, etc, Try to do what you can to get your mind off of the world and truly decompress.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restauranteur or Chef” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.

Since I grew up in the business, I knew exactly what I was getting into. I knew about the hard-work, long hours on my feet, working when everyone else and enjoying themselves, multiple knowledge bases I needed, and the discipline it takes to run a kitchen and restaurant. After college, I was a financial advisor for three years, and it was not my passion, I did not feel connected with the work that I did, so I went back to the business I loved with open-eyes, and I was completely aware of what I needed to do to run a restaurant successfully. So there never really was “5 things I wish someone told me.” I knew what I was getting into from the start and those things that originally drove me away, finally is what brought me back. So below I have outlines five things I am grateful I knew going in.

  1. It’s going to be hard work.
  2. Be prepared for long hours on your feet.
  3. You will be working while everyone else is enjoying themselves, be patient.
  4. You’ll find yourself needing multiple different skill sets. It’s not enough to be just a great chef or a good business owner. You need to have discipline and a deep understanding of all the different aspects.
  5. Be prepared for all of your physical and mental health to be tested, your mind and physicality will be put to the test, so take the necessary precautions to take care of yourself when you can.

What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?

Most people order Paella which is a home run, but I especially like our meat and vegetable paellas which do not get ordered as much. Currently we offer a meat paella with Iberian pork loin, rabbit, summer black truffles, and lima beans. You really can’t go wrong with any of them.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

If I could inspire a movement, it would be one surrounding sustainability practices for every restaurant. We recycle and reuse so many things in-house, even down to the cardboard from wine shipments and miscellaneous paper to start wood for our wood-fire kitchen. Every restaurant should determine and utilize environmental best practices that make it a more efficient and sustainable business overall.

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