Chef Tim Ma of Kyirisan, a member of DC’s Bib Gourmand list, recently welcomed the WDCEP into his elegant, yet playful Shaw restaurant for a behind the scenes look at the Chinese-French concept that’s continually topping lists across the globe.
Tim Ma’s passion for the restaurant business is rooted in family. His uncle, a successful restaurateur in New York, and his parents, local to the area, had history in the industry. Ma’s emphasis on family comes through the moment you walk through the door. From the subtle touches in decor and the hand drawn welcome sign crafted by his daughter to the antique panels near the kitchen that were taken directly from his Uncle’s restaurant (subject of a Smithsonian exhibit at the end of October), homage to Tim’s food lineage is noticeable from all angles of the restaurant.
Despite this family history, Tim wasn’t always a chef. He attended Georgia Tech and spent years as an electrical engineer. At age 30, he was ready for a change so he sold everything, moved to New York City and enrolled in culinary school. Soon
after, he landed an internship at the critically acclaimed Momofuku Ko. Tim and his wife Joey then moved to St. Thomas where Chef Ma spent time honing his expertise, before ultimately returning back to the DMV.
Once in Virginia, Tim and his wife ran two different restaurants: Maple Ave and Water & Wall. While at Maple Ave, Chef Ma decided to dedicate the back area of the restaurant to a tasting table. He arranged four Ikea tables and began experimenting with new flavors and combinations. The tasting menus became so popular they began selling out months in advance, eventually morphing into a brick and mortar location, Water & Wall.
“[The tasting table] was where I really learned to cook” shared Tim, “I could be creative-mix my French training with the Chinese food I grew up on.”
It was at Water & Wall where his signature plating sketches started-a unique, and admittedly somewhat indecipherable way he draws out each plate. What Tim calls a “bunch of scribbles” has helped him conceptualize and teach chefs how to create and plate his food.
With stacks of composition books filled with new ideas, Tim launched Kyirisan in 2015. Kyirisan was built and designed from the ground up. Tim and Joey had a desire to create a space that worked with the neighborhood. Once the restaurant opened, the chef even lived directly above it for the first year. Not only to keep a close watch on operations, but to get familiar with the community; business owners
and residents of the Shaw neighborhood. Chef Ma acknowledges, “we’re the anomaly here – upscale dining oasis around Shaw nightlife.” Despite clear differences from other Shaw spots, Kyirisan continues to be well received in the District.
There is a fascinating duality to Kyirisan. Guests are seated in a formal dining room, but are handed quirky, playful menus that inspire them. A quick glance at the descriptions of cocktails reveals the tongue-in-cheek humor of the team-‘Tiki Tiki Tembo’ anyone? If you find yourself nearby, check out the “Dealer’s Choice” cocktail, made using any three things selected by the guest. Originating from one memorable guest who asked for a cocktail with ‘Beyonce, lemonade, and glitter’. Kyirisan made it happen with a drink just as fabulous as the patron – complete with sparklers. Recent dishes include MaPo Tofu Gnocchi, XO Veal Marrow (Chef Ma’s personal favorite), and elevated toast options such as “Black Forest” and “Cloud Eggs.” On the restaurant’s unique vibe, Chef Ma emphasized that they “keep it fun by joking around and not taking too many things too seriously.” We certainly picked that up, even just from our short visit.
We are thrilled to watch Kyirisan turn heads in the District, and we cannot wait to see what tricks Chef Ma has up his sleeve.