In 1900, French tire moguls Ándre and Édouard Michelin found a creative way to get more people to buy their tires: a restaurant and hotel ratings guide that would get people in their cars, on the road and wearing down tire treads going from place to place.
By 1926, the Michelin Guide started awarding a dining star to select spots; by 1931, the guide expanded its star ratings to two and three stars. By 1936, the guide defined its system: one star for “a very good restaurant in its own category,” two stars for “excellent cooking, worth a detour”’ and three stars for “exceptional cuisine, worth the special trip.”
Decades later, chefs and restaurateurs around the world work their whole lives in hopes of earning even a single Michelin Star for their restaurant; only a select few earn one, even fewer earn two, and only a portion of those few earn three (just 13 restaurants in the U.S. have three stars). The acquisition or loss of a star can make or break a restaurant (and a chef’s spirit). On October 13, Michelin released its first Washington, D.C., guide and awarded stars to 12 restaurants in the district.
Charlottesville has connections to two of them.
Chef Jose De Brito left his position as head chef at The Alley Light in May to join the vast kitchen staff at The Inn at Little Washington. When asked about the stars, De Brito says, “I do not have much to say. I am just the lucky witness to chef Patrick O’Connell’s 38 years of work and vision being rewarded by two beautiful stars.”
The Dabney, chef Jeremiah Langhorne’s casual restaurant known for its commitment to crafting heritage American cuisine from ingredients sourced from the Mid-Atlantic region, received one Michelin Star (Langhorne is from Charlottesville—he trained under chef John Haywood at OXO restaurant before moving on to McCrady’s in Charleston, South Carolina). Christian Johnston, who made a name for himself mixing cocktails at The Alley Light before becoming bar manager at Tavola, will join The Dabney staff later this fall as the restaurant expands its bar program. Tyler Hudgens, who worked at Commonwealth Restaurant and Skybar before heading to D.C. and hiring Johnston to The Dabney team, says she is impressed by Johnston’s “leadership, creativity and investment in his community. He won’t be ‘filling anyone’s shoes,’ and will be able to make his own mark on our constantly honed service and drinks.”
Johnston, who will also work at The Bird in D.C., says that after working in just about every restaurant position—bouncer, sous chef, bar manager—here in Charlottesville, moving to D.C. seems like the logical next step for a C’ville native about to turn 30 and seeking to expand his horizons. What’s more, D.C. ABC laws aren’t as strict as Virginia’s, so Johnston is eager to have access to more cocktail components, though he’s proud of many of the drinks he’s created here in town, particularly the Bittersweet Symphony (Tanqueray gin, Yellow Chartreuse, Aperol, fresh lemon and lime juice) and the Dea Marrone (brown butter-washed Bulleit bourbon, Yellow Chartreuse, brown sugar and Averna syrup, apple cider shrub and fresh lemon juice) served at Tavola.
Johnston’s last shifts at Tavola and The Alley Light were on October 29 and 30, respectively. Steve Yang, who’s worked under Johnston, will take over the bar at Tavola.
Christian Johnston, bar manager at Tavola who got his start mixing cocktails at The Alley Light, will depart Charlottesville for The Dabney in D.C.
Contact Erin O’Hare at email@example.com.