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Posted at 5:26 PM ET, 11/10/2009

Read all about it: Fourth Estate taps new chef

By Tom Sietsema

Susan Delbert becomes the new executive chef of the National Press Club. (Courtesy of National Press Club)

Before she applied to cook at the National Press Club, Susan Delbert had no idea there was a restaurant on the building's 13th floor. But now that she's been hired as executive chef of the 102-year-old organization, which includes the Fourth Estate dining room, she can tick off plenty of reasons you might want to book a table there.

At 14th and F streets, it's close to the Mall and within walking distance of the downtown stages. The Fourth Estate is also open five days a week for lunch and dinner and Saturday for brunch. Yet another lure: Delbert, 58, was the top student in her class when she graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 2001.

In an earlier life, she practiced criminal, tax and business law, but cooking always had a place on her resume: One of her first gigs was at the late Gerard's Place, where she spent Saturdays cleaning spinach and peeling carrots for the French chef Gerard Pangaud.

In the mid-80s, she temporarily retired from law to cook on a 33-foot-long boat that sailed around the Mediterranean and crossed the Atlantic (twice encountering hurricanes). Consequently, she knows a thing or two about buying groceries in foreign ports and whipping up meals in small spaces.

Following cooking school, Delbert cooked in such diverse establishments around town as the defunct BeDuCi, Third Edition and the Oval Room. Most recently, she was one of eight sous chefs at Old Ebbitt Grill, which prompted her jump to the Fourth Estate.

"It's nice to have my own show" and work in a historic venue, says the chef, who started Monday. "This doesn't need fixing. (But) I'm happy to infuse a little more" innovation.

Time spent in Australia as a student and Alaska as a lawyer (does this woman ever rest?) will help shape her new menu. Among the dishes she plans to put on the menu are lamb curry as she ate it Down Under and baked salmon served on rosemary bread stuffing and slathered with an egg sauce.

Working in a club means hanging on to some traditions, though. So she'll continue to offer crab cakes and steak.

And once a lawyer, always a lawyer: "I'm still paying those bar dues," says Delbert.

- Tom Sietsema

By Tom Sietsema  | November 10, 2009; 5:26 PM ET
Categories:  Restaurants  | Tags:  Tom Sietsema  
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