The Sober Ambassador

By Amy Scattergood

Photography by Scott Suchman

Illustrations by JORDAN AMY LEE

The Tastemakers

The Tastemakers: Ashish Alfred

The most influential movers and shakers on Charm City's Hospitality scene.

By Amy Scattergood

f there’s one person to thank for almost single-handedly transforming the southwestern corner of Broadway Square in Fells Point, it is restaurateur Ashish Alfred. His two restaurants—the French brasserie Duck Duck Goose, which he opened in 2018, and the Italian Osteria Pirata, which arrived in May—occupy much of the block between Shakespeare and Thames streets and are connected both physically and creatively. But that’s nothing compared to the transformation Alfred has done on himself.

Alfred started drinking and doing drugs in eighth grade, in part to deal with an alcoholic and physically abusive father, as well as molestation suffered as a child. In his early 20s, when he went to the French Culinary Institute, he was still addicted to alcohol and drugs. He was still using when he cooked at Daniel Boulud’s famed New York City restaurant, Daniel, and when he opened his first restaurant, in Bethesda, in 2012. Two years later, after stealing from his own restaurant to buy heroin, he hit bottom and entered rehab—he’s been sober ever since. Although Alfred, unlike some newly sober chefs, doesn’t proselytize. “I mean, we say progress over perfection, right? And I’ve learned the lesson over and over and over again.” These days he does come pretty close to perfection in the kitchen, on his plates of truffle agnolotti, duck and foie gras pithiviers, and scallops with rice almondine and carrots spiked with curry—a subtle nod to his Indian heritage.

As a result of his struggles, he’s led the way in the non-alcoholic drink revolution. Long before mocktails became a trend, Alfred was elevating that section of his restaurants’ drink menus. The chef was also tapped to prepare an alcohol-free dinner at New York’s James Beard House as part of their Zero Proof series. And he runs his restaurants—the two in Fells, and another Duck Duck Goose in D.C.—as “dry houses,” meaning that the staff doesn’t drink together, either on duty or off. Because although the culinary profession became famous for the kind of highwire drunken flamboyance Anthony Bourdain chronicled in Kitchen Confidential, much of its appeal also died with him, a reckoning that also followed a number of high-profile #MeToo revelations in the food world around the same time. “Good restaurants don’t operate that way,” says Alfred, “and when people aren’t hungover, it makes it easier to have a more professional, respectful environment.”

Restauranting is a hard job, both physically and mentally demanding, and Alfred, now 37, still cooks on the line several nights a week. “Or I’m on the floor running from upstairs to downstairs, bussing, whatever I can do. It’s an athletic event, I could not be in active addiction and do this job.” That work, and that work ethic, is apparent in the quality and the creativity of his food. And he’s just finished writing a memoir to remind himself—and tell us—what it took for him to get here. “I don’t do anything by half measures,” says Alfred.

The Torchbearers

David & Tonya

The Showmen

Alex & Eric Smith

The Sober Ambassador

Ashish Alfred

The Community Activists

Mera Kitchen

The Crab Queen

Nancy Devine

The Team Players

Steve Chu &
Ephrem Abebe

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