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Secret's in the Sauce

Chef gives il Cigno a "fresh" new face.

The most difficult culinary challenge, according to Andrea Pace — il Cigno Ristorante's new executive chef — is not mastering the split-second timing of preparation or the artful presentation of a dish.

"It's sauces," said Pace. "It took seven years of preparing sauces for me to become, not just proficient, but totally consistent. They must have the correct balance of herbs and flavors," he said.

Pace, formerly executive chef at Café Milano in Georgetown, was hired in December as executive chef at il Cigno Ristorante, on Reston's Lake Anne. Said owner Tony Arbid, "We wanted to offer our customers a different, better cuisine. That's why we hired Chef Pace. Our mission is to become the best Italian restaurant in Northern Virginia without being overpriced," he said.

Pace (pronounced Pa-chay), 36, has 22 years of experience including three years training at the Excelsior Culinary Institute in Merano, Italy, his home town, and work at il Palio and Trattoria Dopo Teatro in New York City. He has changed and expanded il Cigno’s menu. His vision is to create exciting "nouvelle Italian cuisine."

"This will be lighter, more interesting food," Pace said. "Some favorites will remain but we are using new, fresh, and colorful ingredients. We are changing from the traditional Italian kitchen to meet the tastes of our customers."

"Changing the menu was not taken lightly," said Arbid. "The last time we revised it was 12 years ago. We wanted the right person with the right qualities. Our emphasis is on fresh food."

"The customers have been raving about Chef Pace's dishes," said Oscar Campos, the head waiter. Campos also samples all dishes so he is familiar with the menu. "His repertoire is amazing. For example, he will take a basic risotto and add lobster or beef tips and herbs for a new taste," said Campos.

"Pace is a very talented chef," said Laurent Menoud, maitre d’ at Café Milano, who worked with Pace for over a year. Menoud praised Pace's skills, especially with fish and pasta. "He was very popular at Café Milano," said Menoud. "He’s a good teacher, too. Very patient," he said.

Executive chefs are responsible for the total operation of a restaurant's kitchen and often endure 12-hour days. Pace not only supervises a sous chef and up to three cooks, but he must develop the menu, manage the daily specials, and teach the staff new techniques.

Pace, who speaks four languages — Italian, English, German and Spanish — moved to Herndon in June last year with his wife, Anna, her mother, and his three children. He enjoys skiing and mountain biking, but admits his schedule hampers outdoor activities. He also says that, except for barbecuing in the summer, he doesn't do much cooking at home "My mother-in-law does most of it," he said with a smile.