For six to eight weeks last year, Johnny Spero spent most of his days at a TV studio in Los Angeles hiding out from his friends on the West Coast. The chef of Reverie, which opened last month in Georgetown, was busy filming Netflix’s The Final Table, a cooking competition show that the streaming company released today. He couldn’t let anyone know what he was doing, but nobody knew the show existed yet, so it wasn’t that difficult.
Now that his face can be beamed into the homes of more than 125 million subscribers, Spero says he isn’t sure how much he’ll watch. He hates listening to a recording of his own voice, let alone watching himself cook on camera. He doesn’t want to to have a binge party to watch all 10 episodes.
For Spero, there’s really only one reason to tune in. “I might just watch it before my parents to make sure I didn’t embarrass myself,” he says.
What may seem like a seminal career moment to some is really a marketing device to Spero, a formerly nomadic chef who has worked in the famed kitchens of Minibar and Komi in D.C. and Noma and Mugaritz in Europe. Reverie was going through the pre-construction phase when Spero headed to Hollywood. He knew that the opening of the restaurant would time up nicely with the release of the show.
So Spero doesn’t want to watch himself on a screen — “It doesn’t feed my ego,” he says. He wants to use the show to help sell a restaurant he’s envisioned as a place to break down barriers between diners and chefs.
Reverie features an open kitchen concept that Spero says is meant to generate conversation between guests and the people cooking their meals. Although it’s in Georgetown and features a Nordic-inspired menu with components such as egg yolk fudge and serrano emulsion, Spero says the prices ($16 to $30 for mains) are meant to make the restaurant inclusive.
It’s all meant to take the mystique away from chefs and cooks, many of whom naturally gravitate toward roles in the kitchen where they don’t have to communicate with customers. Instead, Spero wants to remove any haughtiness, humanize members of the kitchen staff and let the people closest to the food explain it for themselves.
Spero says so far, diners have asked the chefs where they go to eat brunch and what they do after work. “We get to be people,” he says, “because we’re not defined by the title that we have.”
There’s one obvious question Spero has gotten asked since the place opened: How’s the baby? His wife, Alexis, gave birth to their first child, daughter Fiona, right before Reverie was beginning its second week of service. Spero blames a batch of fried chicken he made with a heavy helping of Texas Pete hot sauce for sending Alexis into labor.
Since his daughter was born, Spero has been bouncing back and forth between his new restaurant and sharpening his delegating skills at work. When he’s exhausted, he says, knowing he gets to go home and hold Fiona gives him a second wind.
Streaming service star was never the role he was after.
“I wanted to be a dad more than anything else,” Spero says. “Now I get a restaurant and get to be a dad at the same time.”