Why Chef Rose Noel left New York for the first time in her life
Maialino Mare courtesy of Union Square Hospitality Group
Though she’d been cooking since childhood, Rose Noel (Culinary, ‘13) never saw the restaurant industry as a serious pursuit. She graduated college with a bachelor’s in business administration in international marketing before realizing that she wanted a culinary career. Now, she’s the executive chef of Maialino Mare, Union Square Hospitality Group’s first full-service restaurant in D.C.
“I’ve been cooking for as long as I could see above the stovetop, but it wasn’t a viable profession to my parents, so I didn’t see it as anything serious,” Chef Rose says. Growing up, she cooked in her free time as a way to relax, entertain friends and bond with others. It was only after completing her undergraduate education that she considered enrolling in culinary school.
When Rose came across an advertisement for ICE, she checked the school out. She already knew she loved cooking and didn’t think she had anything to lose. “ICE gave me a good baseline to understand kitchen language,” she says. “Culinary school is what I would call the language course and then the full immersion happened when I went into restaurants.”
To get the hands-on experience she craved, Chef Rose worked part-time at Quality Meats between classes and then externed at Upper West Side fine-dining spot Dovetail. When her requirement was fulfilled, Dovetail offered her a full-time job and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, so she spent a year and a half as a line cook there. Chef Rose then joined the opening team at East Village New-American restaurant Narcissa. “After working at Narcissa, I realized I had only been cooking French food for the past three years and I wanted to see what else was out there,” she says.
Her boss, Chef John Fraser, set her up with stages at Italian restaurants across New York, including Marea and Maialino. While Chef Rose was impressed with Marea’s kitchen, she wouldn’t have experience in the pasta room as a line cook. “It was not okay for me to work in a pasta restaurant and not learn how to make pasta,” she explains of her decision to work at Maialino instead. Chef Rose worked the line for about eight months before the opportunity opened up to move into this pasta room.
“It was a very intimate relationship, pasta and me,” she says of her year and a half in that position. “When you are covered in flour for eight to 10 hours per day, there is no other way of life.” Maialino’s pasta room gave Chef Rose a lesson in patience and perseverance. Due to the nature of being housed in an old building, the pasta room wasn’t temperature controlled. This meant that Chef Rose had to work in the heat, cold, humidity and dryness. “The room was open to the elements, so I learned a lot about how eggs, flour and water work together in different environments,” she explains. “There were days that were nightmares when it was so hot that the dough was gummy and we had to figure out how to make pasta out of it. It was crazy.”
Once she was properly schooled in the craft of pasta making, Chef Rose worked as a sous chef at Monument Lane and then at La Pecora Bianca before returning to Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG). Along with Chef Jason Pfeifer, she opened Manhatta, a decidedly New York City-focused restaurant with 60th-floor views. Chef Rose took on her first management role as executive sous chef and excelled in the position for a year and a half before another opportunity came knocking.
“I heard about an upcoming USHG project in D.C., not really knowing it was going to be a Maialino or that they were looking at me for the position,” Chef Rose explains. When she was approached about her interest in the project she was unsure about living outside of New York for the first time. Though once she met the team, she was sold. Chef Rose immediately clicked with general manager Morgan Dillion as well as others who had signed on. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to feel like moving to D.C., but I knew the project was going to be great,” she says. “The opportunity arose and I didn’t see another like it coming up any time soon. I had to prove to myself that I could do it.”
Maialino Mare opened on Jan. 8 in D.C.’s Navy Yard district. At the Thompson hotel, alongside rooftop bar Anchovy Social, the restaurant is on the banks of the Anacostia River. As executive chef, Rose has imagined a menu that is tied to the original New York location while distinctly mare, or seafood, focused. “We have the key Roman pastas that we have to have if we’re going to call ourselves a Roman restaurant: cacio e pepe, amatriciana, carbonara, gricia, and maialino al forno, the roasted suckling pig — we couldn’t be a Maialino without it.”
Aside from the consistent classics, the menu is brand new. It celebrates the restaurant’s Chesapeake Bay area location with local catches, as well as seafood from the Gulf Coast all the way up to Maine. Plus, D.C. has a robust farmers market scene, which Chef Rose is excited to take advantage of in the warmer months.
“Everyone in D.C. has been so welcoming, it’s super awesome,” she says. “I’m lucky and fortunate to have that so far.”