‘I’ve Been Cooking Since I Was Four’
1310 Kitchen & Bar
1310 Wisconsin Ave NW
Jenn Crovato landed in Italy for a year of culinary school, but never stepped foot in a traditional classroom. Instead, she spent the next 12 months getting an education in any kitchen across the country that would have her.
‘After a week, two weeks, or two months, I would tell the chef where I wanted to go next and ask them if they could make some calls. They did, and I traveled around that way. In the high-end restaurants in Italy back then, they didn’t let you do more than chop parsley as a female. I had to go to the south to really be allowed to get in the kitchen and cook. I went to the best mom and pop restaurant in the area, and that’s where I had the most inspiration and learned the most.’
Today, Jenn’s doing more than chopping parsley. After years establishing herself as a private chef and caterer, Jenn’s friend and owner of the Georgetown Inn offered her the role of head chef at the hotel’s new 1310 Kitchen & Bar. It was too good an opportunity to pass up.
‘I know that for a lot of chefs, their ultimate dream is their own restaurant, but it was never that for me. But my good friend presented me with this opportunity and I knew it wouldn’t be smart to turn it down. So many big problems that chefs and owners deal with center around the landlord. They’ll invest so much in the restaurant and then their lease is up and the rent is jacked up three times, and there’s no way to make it work. Being close friends and partners with my landlord is a big plus.’
Although Jenn has to consider the hotel in all of her culinary decisions, she says her cooking style is still rooted in the Italian way—using really good ingredients, and keeping it simple.
‘When I was making a dish in Italy and I wanted to add something to it that wasn’t typical, they freaked out. They’re not into altering or being inventive with their cuisine. It’s garlic or onions, not both. Parsley or basil, not both. But it’s so good because you’re using the best. It’s fun because you don’t have to do much to the food after that, since it’s so good.’
Backed by a staff who ‘loves to work hard,’ Jenn sources most of her ingredients from nearby Tuscarora Farms, serving favorites like arctic char, zucchini ‘spaghetti’, and kale salad. Operating the business has been a learning curve, but the cooking? That she’s done her entire life.
Jenn’s mom ran a catering service out of their Silver Spring home, and was known for her sweet potato ravioli at every holiday. Her grandfather was a Boston baker by day, and cooked at an Italian club after hours. Jenn followed suit, cooking by the time she was 4 years old, making family dinners twice a week at 7, and earning money for her talents at 11.
‘I’ve cooked for money my whole life. I’d cook to earn money for a ski trip, or buy an outfit. It just came natural to me, but I never thought of it as a career. My mom convinced me to pursue it.’
After decades in the business, Jenn has the same child-like passion for cooking, but says the behind-the-scenes headaches—from a burned-out lightbulb to employee issues—often overshadow the more meaningful work.
‘Everybody assumes you’re in the kitchen creating and cooking, but any chef you talk to will tell you you’re usually putting out fires and troubleshooting. Sometimes you’re doing everything but what people assume you’re doing.’
At front of house, social media and review sites pose the greatest challenges. In today’s outrage culture, everyone’s a critic. Worse, Jenn says some diners are blackmailing restaurant owners into paying for positive reviews.
‘What people don’t realize is that you can pay Yelp to be on top; it’s not one of those sites where the customers are making the judgements. I have a friend who owns a DC restaurant and someone has walked in before and said, ‘If you don’t pay me to post on Yelp, I’ll blast you.’ You’re in a corner, but all we can do is our best.’
Jenn says those in search of an honest look at the restaurant should head to Instagram—or simply try 1310 out for themselves. Beyond that, she avoids getting swept up in the negativity, going so far as to write inspirational quotes on the restaurant’s exterior windows.
‘It started because the coffee roaster we use is a supporter of poets, so we put poetry on the windows, and that turned into quotes. We have three rules—never religious, never political, and only positive. People just want to rant now, and putting something positive out there is a plus.’
The response has been equally encouraging.
‘I got sick in the winter and didn’t put anything up, and I started getting hit with Facebook comments asking where the quotes were! People love them.’
This summer, her daughter’s friend has been tasked with quote duty. Jenn says her children also work for her, but have no desire to make a career of it.
Still, it seems they’ve inherited the cooking gene—if only by necessity.
‘People think I have this amazing refrigerator of food at home for my family. I have a Brita with water in it, and that’s it. My son and my daughter both cook for themselves.’