The Dish

Jennifer Carroll gives us the scoop about life as a Top Chef alum. 

Jennifer Carroll is the chef and co-owner of Requin in Fairfax. She and fellow Top Chef alum Mike Isabella will be cooking for Two Top Takeover at Isabella’s restaurant, Graffiato, Thursday, Nov. 17 as part of Richmond’s Fire, Flour & Fork.

You’re from Philadelphia—what’s your Virginia connection?

It’s all Mike Isabella, he’s the mastermind behind it. Ever since Mike and I were on Top Chef [Season 6] together we’ve remained really good friends, and he’s been after me to come down and partner with him.

I was actually in Richmond a few years ago with Travis Croxton [Rappahannock and Rapp Session], he gave me a whole tour of the town. And I did an event with Jason Alley [Comfort and Pasture] a few years ago. I’m really excited to come back. I’m looking forward to eating and drinking, and seeing chef friends I haven’t seen in a while. Your scene is really blowing up there.

Requin is “French-Mediterranean.” Why did you settle on that concept?

I love French food, it is so soul satisfying and nurturing, it just makes me feel good eating it. The Mediterranean part is healthier, a lot of vegetables and olive oil. Mixing the two together I lighten up the heaviness that French food sometimes can be with all the butter and cream and deliciousness. And the seafood influence, that’s my background from cooking at Le Bernadin with Eric Ripert for so long. With my love for the ocean and all things fish, Requin’s wharf location is perfect for me.

There’s a lot of talk now about the culture of the kitchen for female chefs. What’s your take?

I’ve been cooking in this industry over 15 years. It is a lot better than when I started, but we still have a long way to go in order to be looked at as equals. As a woman I’ve always known I had to keep my head down and work harder and faster, be more of a perfectionist and push myself more in order to beat the guy who isn’t as close to as good as me.

Even to this day you have delivery guys coming into Requin and they walk right by me and say, “Is the owner or manager here?” Ok, I will not be doing business with you or your company.

Why do you cook?

Food speaks to everybody no matter where you come from, whatever financial background you’re from, whatever culture you’re from. Food crosses lines where language sometimes doesn’t. You can always speak to people around the table, breaking bread together. I just love everything about the industry.

Coming soon, look for more Q&As with Fire, Flour & Fork chefs, including Stafford native Michael Bryant who is executive chef at the famed Cliff’s Edge restaurant on LA’s Sunset Boulevard.

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