Bethesda native Ashish Alfred, who prefers to be called “Al,” began his culinary career in his 20s as a way to turn from an addiction issue and start fresh.
When the opportunity to attend International Culinary Center in Manhattan presented itself, the guy who had no interest in food—aside from watching old Julia Child episodes as a kid—took advantage of his new beginning and came back to Maryland four years later with a chef title, experience in big-name restaurants, and a passion to start his very own kitchen in his hometown.
So he established Duck Duck Goose in a little corner space in downtown Bethesda in 2016—which was modeled after the restaurants he frequented in Soho and West Village. After two years of success, he’s decided to open a second location in Fells Point next month.
“The whole thing kind of just happened by accident really,” Alfred said. “I’m not one of those people who was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I always wanted to be a chef.’ That just wasn’t the case. I tell people a lot that it found me, and I just suck less at cooking than I do at everything else.”
Taking over the former home of 8 Ball Bar & Grill (which closed its doors on South Broadway last month), the French brasserie will feature an open concept with plenty of tables, a wall mural, and an exhibition kitchen so that diners can see what’s going on from the front of the house to the back. Alfred is particularly excited about the patio the location offers, which will provide the restaurant with a quieter and more intimate nook for customers to enjoy.
“A lot of those places, and the people, down there have been there for a really long time,” Alfred said. “I really just want it to be a place that becomes part of that community and synonymous with a night out in Baltimore.”
Although Duck Duck Goose focuses on fancy French fare—including ratatouille, branzino, and honey roasted duck— Alfred is adamant about keeping the ambiance casual and fun. He assures that the music will always be a little bit too loud, the servers will be in baseball caps, and the bar will be open for the nightlife crowd. However, he still values the finer approach to dining and plans to preserve that element within the restaurant.
“We are a French restaurant that doesn’t take ourselves too seriously,” he said. “You can walk into Duck Duck Goose and grab a couple appetizers and a cocktail, but you can also walk in and get foie gras.”
Aside from a few staples offered year-round—including Alfred’s Chicken Forgione with spicy broccolini and charred lemon, which he discovered in New York—all of the restaurant’s plates are seasonal and ever-changing. Alfred particularly prides himself in Duck Duck Goose’s fresh pasta program, a feature that he is eager to share with his customers.
“Yes it’s French, but we like pasta, so we’re going to do what we want to,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m a chef. I’ll walk in one day with 25 pounds of halibut and be like, ‘Hey this is going to be on the menu tonight.’”
Alfred does not want the new location to be a carbon copy of the original in Bethesda, but instead, wants it to be tailored to the Baltimore community. He moved to Canton last year in an effort to weave himself into the fabric of the city, and since then, he’s been able to connect with the neighborhood personally. His goal is to oversee daily operations now and in the years to come.
“My plan is not to be one of these chefs that opens a place up, hangs out for a couple of weeks, and rolls out after he hires 10 other people to be there,” he said. “I want to be close to it. Fells Point is such a lovely community of incredible people that both live and work there, and if I didn’t love it before, I absolutely 100 percent am in love with it now.”