Chef Sasha Felikson is now headed to French-Mediterranean Julii at Pike and Rose
Eatery Pulse News interviewed Sasha Felikson last year while he was in contention for the Rising Culinary Star of the Year Award at the RAMMYS 2017. Sasha Felikson is now headed to Julii, a French-Mediterranean concept created by the founders of the popular fast-casual CAVA chain, Ted Xenohristos, Ike Grigoropoulos, and Dimitri Moshovitisand. Julii is slated to open at the end of this summer at Pike & Rose. See an abstract of Felikson’s story below, appearing in our sister publication.
Chefs in the Washington, D.C. area are seeing the fruit of their labor as the city gets recognized as one of the top food destinations in the country. It wasn’t easy—the town was known for political power lunches and an abundance of steakhouses not too long ago. Chefs and restaurateurs knew this moment would come, however, as they attracted new chefs and culinary talent to this city, and the growing private sector spurred an interest in the global flavors that had already been imported by immigrants and foreign embassy teams.
The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington and the RAMMY Awards are part of this transformation for long-recognizing time-honored, as well as up-and-coming talent in D.C., through its awards and the July 30, 2017 gala, which provides a stage for and encourages the culinary talent that the city and surrounding suburbs have to offer to thrive.
One such chef is Sasha Felikson, a finalist for the 2017 Rising Culinary Star of the Year Award at the RAMMYS. As the executive chef of Doi Moi, his energy and passion for serving great food and tapping into global inspiration is well known and unrelenting.
Taking the culinary helm at Doi Moi, where the food is highly-influenced by the late restaurateur Mark Kuller, and the founder’s’ journey to Southeast Asia, his days are long and exciting, he notes. At Doi Moi, you see deep Thai and Vietnamese influences, and it is perhaps the perfect place for Felikson, who has immersed himself in fine-dining, with early-career training in Asian fusion, to come into his own.
The journey of Felikson, rising culinary star finalist
Originally born in the Ukraine Republic, before the fall of the U.S.S.R., Felikson’s journey to Doi Moi was rather scenic and uncertain. He and his family emigrated to the U.S. through Italy and found themselves landing when he was three in Boston, which has a large Russian and Ukrainian population. They took up roots in the D.C. area, moving to Rockville, Md., but he, himself, detoured to Colorado for a while. Early on, Felikson wanted to study the culinary arts but, early on, was persuaded instead to learn it through practical application and working with top chefs.
After attending Salisbury College and studying Psychology, he spent two years or so in Colorado; for a time, working at Bim Bam Boo, an Asian fusion & Thai cuisine restaurant in Boulder. A typical day there could exceed 18 hours, not too much longer than Felikson’s current shifts at Doi Moi.
Fine-dining restaurants can be the jewel of a collection, a hobby, a pursuit of ambition or recognition in the culinary scene for their owners. There can be hints of an aggressive crash-and-burn style, putting the pursuit of culinary excellence over business imperatives. There has been some of that in Felikson’s culinary career, but also the fortune of working with top restaurateurs who have survived the scene or who are more financially-disciplined.
His career includes stints at Graffiato and Kapnos, by Mike Isabella, for example. Since 2011, Felikson has dived deeply into the fine-dining scene and upscale-casual restaurants—his interests mostly in the former. He read “The Fat Duck Cookbook” by Heston Blumenthal (2008). Before he could do the deep dive into fine dining, he was keen on learning the basic fundamentals of cooking and that happened during his time at a steakhouse in Boulder, before moving back to the East Coast. After those basics, it was time to elevate his craft and develop his own style. City Zen at the Mandarin Hotel, Rogue 24 and the former Table in the Shaw all served to sharpen the acumen.
In speaking with Felikson, one gains an appreciation for how driven he is to improve his game and that the hard knocks and a few humiliations in kitchens of the past were for a larger purpose. “It’s all about bringing the best that you can, with good ingredients,” he says. “Focus on today, and today is what matters. What matters is what you do on that day, and what you put your heart and your soul in.”
He looks outside the U.S. to appreciate progressive policies regarding food and agriculture. “The country (U.S.) needs to invest in good food and agriculture.” He’s very interested in the sourcing of local foods and in supporting smaller restaurant and restaurant groups that adopt this thinking.
“There are many countries that are super progressive. And they focus on culinary and independent eateries, they focus on the small businesses.” You won’t see the young chef patronizing or supporting chains that are sourcing from large, distant suppliers, even the well-known chains started here in the D.C. area.
Felikson helped open Menu MBK in Penn Quarter and then went on to Minibar, where fine dining was like a religion. His time there was made more enjoyable by his friendship with Johnny Spero who was a chef there. Spero appears to be close to opening Reverie in Georgetown, one of the anticipated openings of 2017, by all lifestyle-magazine accounts. Reverie will open at the Grace Street Collective.
A breakout moment for Sasha Felikson is imminent
Additional techniques were picked up at Yona in Arlington, Va. with Jonah Kim, who left that partnership with Mike Isabella for opportunities in Miami. When it was time for a turning point and better financial focus at Doi Moi, Jason and Max Kuller, the current owners turned to Felikson. Through better portion control and an attentiveness to quality and not quantity, the financial performance of the kitchen has improved.
With the changes Felikson has made at Doi Moi, the restaurant is on a positive trajectory. Food costs have improved and sales targets have been met—all exceeding last year’s metrics, he says. In October, Doi Moi was added to the Bib Gourmand list in the prestigious Michelin Guide, an award that was very satisfying and a tribute to Felikson and the entire staff of the restaurant.
Read the full story at Eatery Pulse Streem.
Read more stories like this one in our digital issue: Swizzle Chill Magazine