After briefly flirting with the idea of starting an independent restaurant (or perhaps a sausage-making operation), The Bird co-founder Michael Bonk has abruptly changed course and signed on as chef de cuisine at corporate chain BLT Steak.
“BLT is kind of a major cornerstone in the D.C. market,” Bonk says of the new career track. He spent the past five years with local hospitality player EatWell DC — first as the driving force behind nose-to-tail eatery, The Pig, and most recently as opening chef and partner at poultry-obsessed The Bird.
Bonk tells Eater he considered striking out on his own, but a bid on a potential space fell through. He says he attended some tastings at other restaurants and mentioned having discussions with “bigger names in D.C.” But a desire to return to the more formal style of dining he encountered during stints at Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar on Capitol Hill, as well as at now-shuttered Vidalia and Mio, convinced him that BLT Steak was the “best fit all around.”
“I have always had a passion for it, with the structure and focus that is involved to always achieve perfection,” he says.
Bonk welcomes the challenge of handling bigger crowds compared to his experience with the smaller restaurant group. “I am a multi-tasker,” he says. Some of those tasks include introducing whole animal butchery at BLT Steak, and making sausage at the expense-account favorite. He’ll kick off the butchering program with lamb, the first four-legged creature he learned to deconstruct.
Don’t expect major changes on the menu in the short term.
“I’m not coming in here to mess with what’s working. I am trying to make lives easier in the kitchen,” he says. Bonk’s first big event will be Thursday, August 10, for Wines Over Washington — BLT’s new rooftop dining series. Beverage director James Nelson shares a similar love for meats: One of Eater’s Top Cocktails To Drink Now is BLT’s Shaq + Kobe, featuring Wagyu fat-washed gin, salt and pepper seltzer, and a substantial beef jerky garnish.
Bonk is replacing Jorge Chicas at the downtown steakhouse. Chicas is now with Eat Good Food Group, working in the kitchen at newly opened Hummingbird in Alexandria, Virginia.