BitchBiz: This interview was written in partnership with NEW CHEFS ON THE BLOCK & Landmark Theatres.
It’s not every day that they make a movie about the D.C. food scene. But when they do, the Bitches show up to the premiere. We were excited to sit down with Dustin Harrison-Atlas, a local filmmaker, brunch fan, and director behind NEW CHEFS ON THE BLOCK, a documentary that follows two local restauranteurs, Aaron Silverman of Rose’s Luxury and Pineapple & Pearls, and Frank of Frankly Pizza, as they go through the process of developing, building, and opening their first restaurants.
The movie also features cameos from Washington’s most famous chefs, including the late Michel Richard, as they talk about what it takes to make it in the restaurant biz.
The film will open exclusively at Landmark Theatres’ nationally—with a special event in Washington at E Street and Bethesda Row Cinemas on Wednesday, April 4, 2018, with special appearances by local celebrity chefs and restaurateurs.
We’re excited to announce that we’re giving away three pairs of tickets in each our our cities: Washington, D.C., New York, and Chicago. To enter, read on. Watch the trailer, here, or just go ahead and pre-order the full film on iTunes, here. (You’ll get half off for being a Bitches’ reader!)
Here’s what Dustin had to say.
Tell us about your background and your connection to Washington, D.C.
I’ve been in D.C. for 17 years. I only meant to stay for four, but I haven’t been able to get away. I went to GWU for my undergrad degree in political communications and then I worked at Discovery for a few years. I was there for two-and-a-half years when I decided to leave and start my own production company while going to graduate school at the same time.
You have your own production company.
Yes, The Crow’s Nest.
And how many films have you produced?
This is my first feature film.
Congratulations! Can you tell us about your inspiration for the film?
I’m not a foodie, but I’d been looking for a long time to do a documentary about people who were trying to do things that most people told them they couldn’t do. I’m fascinated by the American dream: hard work paying off in the face of great odds.
My brother-in-law was going to open a pizza shop and I thought, “oh my God, that’s my dream.” He agreed to be in the film, and I wanted to pair him with a million dollar idea. As a documentary filmmaker, I always hoped to get in on the ground floor of something, and this was my opportunity.
I needed to find another chef so I Googled: “new chefs in D.C. opening restaurants” and the first thing that came up was Aaron Silverman. This was 2013—I started filming with him before he even started construction on Rose’s Luxury. I started right when they were just doing the pop-ups. Shortly after, they finally got the permits to start the major demolition. The film really starts at ground zero, which is what makes it so special. The film follows both chefs from the beginning of their journeys to opening a restaurant.
What is different about this film?
Opening a restaurant is more about the people than it is about the food. Most chef films end when chefs get their big review. You never get to see the impact of becoming a world-renowned chef. When all the unbelievable stuff started happening with Aaron, I wanted to feature what it was like to be this new legend and find out what the weight of the crown was.
So, you would say this is about entrepreneurship?
It’s all about entrepreneurship. I have worked really hard to make sure the film doesn’t get pigeonholed as a food film. It’s about the people and not about the food. I got a ton of push back on that. People have said that no one will care about the waitress, but I said, “I think I can make you care about the waitress.”
The first comment I ever got about the film was when someone had come by for a film assignment for his class. He said, “You made me care about every person in that restaurant.” I teared up as he told me that.
Would you say this is your own entrepreneurial journey?
The parallels of opening a restaurant for the first time and making a film for the first time are strong. The similarities in emotions and circumstances have helped me to tell that story.
Talk about balancing the film and your personal life.
It’s hard on your life and hard on your relationship. I was in the middle of the hardest months of the edit when my wife was having a baby; it was brutal. Everything the chefs were going through, we were going through, too.
Michel Richard is in the film. Tell us about his role.
When I did the first few interviews, I had no idea what was going to happen in the film. I knew both chefs were doing something different; Frank’s pizzas are absolutely unbelievable and Aaron’s concepts are about making people happy. This was really different for me, but I didn’t know what was going to happen. And then I landed an interview with Michel Richard—he is just so magical in front of the camera. I now had the opportunity to do a really special film. I captured him talking about his favorite subject, and he is just so good. I knew I had a responsibility to capture his legacy, he actually ended up passing away before it was finished.
He talked about the passion it took to succeed and not just about being a cook. He spoke of his obstacles, but with the perfect accent and rightly predicted that D.C. was a good food city, but it was not NY… Yet. Then, Bon Appetit magazine’s 2016 best restaurant list featured D.C. as the best food city. The film really caught the rise of the D.C. food scene.
Tell us about the chefs in the film and the roles they play.
All the chefs in the film fill the audience in on what is going on the heads of the two lead chefs. Michel Richard was the wise old chef throughout the film. You don’t always get authentic feelings when people are on camera, so one of the unique things about this film is that it is a textbook of how to really be in the restaurant business.
The film is an educational tool, and not just about the passion and logistics of opening a restaurant.
Danny Meyer is also in the film, who is perhaps the most famous restaurateur in America. He nails it on the head with his motto that everything needs to be about the people. Happy employees funnel down into the food and the opinions of the guests.
How did you get Danny Meyer in the film?
I worked for 6 months to get him to be in the film. He gave me an hour of his time for the film—and that guy has no time. He offers really sage advice to the chefs in the film, and to anyone who wants to own their own restaurants. I got to talk to him directly about the things that were concerning both Aaron and Frank.
We spoke about the heartbreaking components of review sites, like yelp, where hardworking chefs have to deal with bad reviews. Danny Meyer said “you’re never as good as the good reviews say you are, and you’re never as bad as the bad reviews say you are.” It was great advice. And it holds true in film as well. No one is ever going to be able to please everybody.
You’ve eaten at Rose’s Luxury. Tell us about it.
I have eaten there at least six times. I am one of the few people who has the backdoor number to skip the line. I love Rose’s and I go to Frankly Pizza all the time, and both chefs love each other’s restaurants.
Speaking of restaurants, do you brunch?
I do brunch. I am huge of brunch. I am a big Eggs Benedict guy.
Where do you like to brunch in D.C.?
Masa 14 has an awesome brunch— they have a great bottomless brunch. That’s probably my second favorite place. Compass Rose has maybe one of the top two or three brunches I’ve ever had. We went there last year for Father’s Day. If I had to throw in a third, Central’s brunch is great, too.
Bloody Marys or mimosas?
Bloody Marys, for sure. I love them particularly spicy—if they have a bit of blue crab in them all the better.
Who are the five people that you would invite to brunch?
Tiger Woods, as I am a big golfer. David Ortiz—I’m a big Boston Red Sox fan. Barack and Michelle. Danny Meyer.
Why should people go see this film?
This film is about making a dream come true. It has everything that every foodie has, and every chef element that people who love chef films have. The special part is about getting to meet everyone that it takes. People will have a new understanding of what it takes to open a restaurant and every piece of passion and struggle that goes into it.
A huge thanks to Dustin for speaking with us. Now, enter to win tickets to the film!
To enter, share this article on Twitter or Facebook, and say why you’re excited to see the film. On Twitter, be sure to mention @BtchesWhoBrunch, @newchefsfilm, and #NEWCHEFSONTHEBLOCK. On Facebook, be sure to tag Bitches Who Brunch, New Chefs on the Block, and use the hashtag #NEWCHEFSONTHEBLOCK.
Want to watch it from home? We’re dropping the price for readers through next week—download the film for $6.99 on iTunes, here.