Richmond native Ed Hardy made a radical career choice: After working as a staffer in several congressional campaigns, he quit the political life and became a full-time chef. "I was once in politics," he says, "but now I sleep better at night." And now, as the chef de cuisine of McLean's Bistro Vivant, Hardy happily fills his days creating flavorful dishes.

Although he did not grow up in a food-centric family, Hardy says that cooking has always played a role in his life. It started with his part-time kitchen work while studying at the University of Virginia. "I always liked food, though not obsessed with it," he says. "I cooked my way through the last two years of college. I really like it," he says, adding that he became a chef to impress the girls at U.Va. In those early days, Hardy started at Southern Culture Restaurant in Charlottesville and was later promoted to sous-chef. Moving on, he became executive chef of the Virginian, also in Charlottesville.

Basically self-taught in the early part of his career, Hardy moved to New York City to enroll in the French Culinary Institute after quitting his job on Capitol Hill. After earning his degree there and graduating third in his class, Hardy honed his cooking skills by working with Marcus Samuelsson at Aquavit in New York City. His culinary experience includes working as a sous-chef with Michael Romano for the Union Square Hospitality Group at the Modern and the MoMA cafes. It also includes cooking at the American Table Bar and Cafe at Lincoln Center as the chef de cuisine and as the sous-chef at Red Rooster Harlem. Hardy also completed weeklong stages at four of Manhattan's prestigious restaurants: A Voce, Cafe Boulud, Maialino and Gramercy Tavern.

But after working in the private dining section of a New York company, Hardy realized he really wanted to return to the excitement of restaurant kitchens. After his wife described how much the Washington restaurant scene had changed over the past several years, the pair decided to move to D.C.

If you go
Bistro Vivant
» Where: 1394 Chain Bridge Road, McLean
» Info: 703-356-1700;
» Hours: Lunch daily 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; dinner 4 to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 4 to 10:30 p.m. Friday to Saturday, 4 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday

Answering a Craigslist ad for a chef, Hardy ended up with an interview with the owners of Bistro Vivant, and was hired to focus on making the restaurant's menu reflect the best of farm-fresh seasonal ingredients. And his inspiration? "I have been through many phases in my career, and with French technique, you can do 20 different things with vegetables," he says. "Now with vegetables, I will show simplicity and trying to achieve balance with a meal. When I create a dish, it must taste like something, not include too many ingredients, and allow the flavors of the meat and vegetables to show through."


What's your comfort food?

A little Italian: pasta plus sage, plus charcuterie, plus fresh herbs. Then a squeeze of lemon, chicken stock, butter and cheese.

What is in your fridge?

Always eggs and milk, eggs for breakfast. Sparkling water, cheese and some experiment I am playing around with.

What is your must-have ingredient?

I love sage or other fresh herbs.

Which is your favorite restaurant?

In New York, Salumeria Rosi; in Gordonsville, the Barbecue Exchange; in Washington, Bibiana.

Which is your favorite cookbook?

"Smokehouse Ham, Spoon Bread, and Scuppernong Wine: The Folklore and Art of Appalachian Cooking," by Joseph Dabney


Bistro Vivant Steak Tartare

The chef notes: "We prepare each Steak Tartare a la minute and pair it with three different sauces (mustard creme, parsley puree, and fried egg puree) and grilled country bread ... For the meat, Bistro Vivant uses 28-day dry-aged Angus from Endless View Farm in New Market, Va."

Serves 4 to 5

For the Tartare:

Combine in a bowl:

32 ounces good-quality New York strip, sliced into a very fine dice

4 tablespoons olive oil

4 tablespoons minced capers

2 tablespoons minced chives

2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley

3 tablespoons minced red onion

Salt and pepper to taste.

For the mustard creme:

Whisk together:

3 ounces heavy cream

1 1/2 ounces Dijon mustard

For the Parsley puree:

1 bunch parsley

Blanch in simmering salted water for 15 seconds:

Transfer the parsley to an ice bath. Remove and squeeze out any water. Puree with 2 tablespoons olive oil.

For the Fried Egg puree:

In a nonstick skillet, fry over-easy:

3 eggs

Combine in a blender with:

1 teaspoon truffle oil

1 egg yolk

Salt and pepper to taste.

Puree until fine.