Major career moves were on the table for Eric Adjepong in early 2020. The Top Chef fan favorite—he was recently eliminated from the currently airing All-Stars season—and owner of DC’s Pinch & Plate catering with his wife, Janell, had finally settled on a brick-and-mortar restaurant concept and space: On the Double, “a taste of the African diaspora through the lens of a roti shop,” according to the restaurant’s website, in the capital’s Union Market food hall.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic icing his opening plans, he’s feeling relatively lucky. “I had missed out on a lease on a space [at Union Market] I was offered in November,” Adjepong says. “I lost the bid and I’m thankful, because that would have opened in March. Having a grand opening and then having to shut it down would have been crazy.”
The later lease Adjepong did sign gives him 45 days to get On the Double open, “which now makes it look like a July-type opening. It stinks in regard because I couldn’t open as soon as I wanted to, but I’ll have time to polish. I’m in a hole but not as bad as unfortunately some other people are.”
The Pivot: Things are on track for On the Double, as the restaurant will operate in a fast-casual format that’s well suited to the world under COVID where there’s “a little more caution from everyone, putting sanitation and cleanliness at the forefront,” Adjepong says.
Catering and events are where his life has been more upended. “We’re working through [catering cancellations] right now. I had a lot of private events that have been postponed, geared toward graduation time, or pivoted to online,” like an Earth Day Eats campaign that was supposed to air on ABC. “We were supposed to have the first Top Chef festival in Hollywood last month, and that got postponed. It’s a tough bullet to swallow,” particularly for chefs trying to leverage exposure on the show into a national brand. “But even though I’m taking a hit in the business sense it feels justified because I’m doing my part. I have a two-year-old and older family members with underlying conditions, so that’s top priority.”
The Future: “I really hope a spotlight is shed on our industry and how small the margins are,” Adjepong says. “As a chef or restaurateur, you look at the yearly income, and profits come from one quarter; everything else is break-even. For that [profitable quarter] to be taken away, as [the weather] is warming up… This time of year is what chefs and restaurateurs look forward to.”
I really hope a spotlight is shed on our industry and how small the margins are.
But he realizes that reopening restaurants too quickly isn’t wise or feasible. “I hope that things get back to normalcy, but these effects are long-lasting,” he says. “We shouldn’t move on so quickly.”
Chef Eric Adjepong’s Grilled Peri Peri Shrimp Skewers with Avocado and Cherry Tomato
24 medium cooked peeled shrimp
Peri Peri Marinade, from below
1 large ripe avocado, halved, pitted, and cut into 8 roughly even pieces
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
8 medium cherry tomatoes
1 small cucumber, peeled and cut into 8 roughly even pieces
8 (8)-inch skewers
Gem lettuce, for serving
Pickled red onion, for serving
Fresh cilantro leaves, for serving
Peri Peri Marinade
3-6 garlic cloves, to taste
Juice of ½ lemon
Juice of ½ lime
1/2 tablespoon paprika
3-5 Thai chiles, to taste
¼ cup red wine vinegar
Stems from ½ bunch cilantro
½ large red bell pepper
1½ Roma tomato
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
¼ cup neutral oil, such as grapeseed or avocado
Combine all the sauce ingredients except oil in a blender. Blend on medium speed, slowly adding the oil in a continuous stream while the blender is running. Combine the marinade and the shrimp in a medium mixing bowl, cover with plastic, and allow to marinate in the fridge for up to 24 hours before grilling.
When ready to grill: Gently toss the avocado with lemon juice in a small mixing bowl. Thread 1 shrimp, 1 piece cucumber, 1 tomato, 1 shrimp, 1 piece avocado, and 1 shrimp, in that order, on to a skewer. Repeat for remaining skewers. Grill over medium heat 1-2 minutes per side, just to caramelize the marinade. Serve on a large platter over a bed of lettuce, garnished with pickled onions and cilantro.
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