“I never struggled.”
Paul Stearman, the recently installed executive chef at Clarendon brasserie Lyon Hall, isn’t short on confidence, perhaps the result of his many early successes.
Around the age of 15, Stearman was encouraged by his father to get a job near their Burke home. Like many teens, he chose a pizza joint. But what might have ended there became a full-time profession for Stearman, who soon pursued a high school culinary program and won a prestigious scholarship to Bethesda’s now-defunct L’Academie de Cuisine.
By early adulthood, Stearman says, he had won the Jean-Louis Palladin Foundation Award (named for the accomplished French chef who opened his eponymous restaurant at the Watergate Hotel in 1979 and died in 2001), and with it a trip to Bordeaux, France, studying under acclaimed chef Jean-Pierre Xiradakis.
“When you study French cuisine, you can do anything,” Stearman says.
After stints at D.C.’s Vidalia and The Hay-Adams hotel, Stearman joined the team at Marcel’s, an award-winning, fine-dining French-Belgian restaurant in D.C. run by local chef/restaurateur Robert Wiedmaier. But 18 years later, Stearman felt it was time to move on, eventually connecting with The Liberty Tavern Restaurant Group (operators of Lyon Hall, The Liberty Tavern, Liberty Barbecue, Northside Social and the newly opened Northside Social Falls Church).
Sporting a beard and suspenders on a recent Thursday afternoon, Stearman, 41, describes how he does things a little differently. He likes to buy locally as much as possible, even bringing some of his cooks out to Martin’s Angus Beef farm in The Plains to feed the lambs or spend some time with the cows. He prefers simple preparations, noting, as his grey-green eyes light up, that his favorite food is Dover sole floured and fried with thyme. And though he is self-assured, he reveals no pretension.
Since January, when he joined executive chef Matt Hill (a restaurant group partner who continues oversight of its kitchens), Stearman has updated the menu at Lyon Hall, adding items such as deviled eggs with caviar, well as ceviche, to the happy hour menu. He has also expanded the mussels offerings to five, with three seasonally updated options. (Expect a shrimp, chorizo and saffron broth version in the coming weeks.) But he says his primary focus is to step up the “consistency” and “quality” of a restaurant that’s served the community since 2010.
Often working 12-hour days—tending to the ordering and delivery of fresh food, directing the lunch and dinner service and hopping on the line whenever necessary—Stearman still says he sometimes has to stop himself from rushing into work in the morning. He tries to take an hour to himself before delving back into countless second-by-second decision-making scenarios.
Yes, he’s in charge of the menu. But he’s also a bit “like the air traffic controller,” he says.