May-June 2016 | Featured Article

Seven Unsung Bethesda-Area Chefs You Should Know

Some of the area's best chefs don't compete on reality TV shows or promote themselves on social media

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Photo by Liz Lynch

Yimy Monge

Chef de Cuisine | Lock 72 Kitchen & Bar, Potomac

Yimy Monge whips up mashed potatoes every week for one of Lock 72’s regular diners, even though the restaurant doesn’t usually serve them. He’s been known to re-create customers’ favorites—including duck chips, tuna sashimi and Tex-Mex salad—after they’ve come off the menu. “When you make something good and people appreciate it, that’s happiness,” says Monge, 32. “When you do something you love, it doesn’t matter if you work 14-hour days.”

A firm believer in the idea that dedication and hard work lead to success, Monge moved from his native El Salvador to Long Island, New York, when he was 16 and cooked at an Italian restaurant where his uncle was the executive chef. Ten years later and eager to try something new, he moved to Maryland and got a job as a line cook at Balducci’s gourmet market in Bethesda, where his mom was working in the kitchen. Monge had been there for about five months when Brian Nussear, the executive chef at Balducci’s, was hired to head up the kitchen at the new Tavern at River Falls; he asked Monge to join him as sous-chef. Eighteen months later, Nussear left, and Monge was promoted to his position. When Robert Wiedmaier and his group bought the restaurant last year and changed the name—first to River Falls Tavern, more recently to Lock 72 Kitchen & Bar—they kept him on, an unusual move for a company that likes to train and hire from within its ranks. But they saw in Monge an eager, organized and tireless chef. “He still comes in on his day off,” says Frank Shull, partner and chief operating officer of the RW Restaurant Group.
What Monge learned from his grandmother, who was a cook at an El Salvadoran coffee plantation and his culinary mentor: “Being humble and loyal.”

Hardest part of being a chef: “Having a personal life.”

Favorite casual fare: Food trucks, especially those that specialize in Latin street food.