Cathal Armstrong once cooked for Julia Child and often for Ted Kennedy and now he’s cooked for President Barack Obama.
The Irish owner of Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Virginia was given the ultimate dream dinner to prepare when the White House told him to expect Michelle and Barack Obama for their intimate 19th wedding anniversary.
Cathal Armstrong is friends with the First Lady and has worked with her on her initiative to help children eat healthier and is founder of ‘Chefs as Parents’ an organization set up with that goal in mind.
The restaurant is named for his daughter.
Given his friendship with Michelle, it was no great surprise that the first couple arrived to his door in the Oldtown section and the president and first lady stepped out of their limousine around 8:00 on a rainy Saturday night to sample his fare. His intimate restaurant seats 100.
Armstrong is used to big guests but nothing quite like this.
The normally unflappable chef remembers the day when Julia Child turned up unannounced. He was working at Bistro Bis, a popular brasserie on Capitol Hill.
“I had nothing ready,” Armstrong says. “So I cooked for her off the cuff.”
Armstrong and his wife and business partner Meshelle have opened three restaurants in Virginia.
The Armstrongs and partner Todd Thrasher also own and operate Eamonn's A Dublin Chipper; PX, the upstairs speakeasy lounge; and the historic eatery the Majestic, all within five blocks from Restaurant Eve.
When interviewed by Irish Central’s Ashley Parker last year while sitting at a table at Restaurant Ev, Armstrong talked about some of the celebrities he has cooked for.
He cooked a private dinner for George W. Bush in the White House residence, and hosted a fundraiser at the Majestic “for a very little known senator from Illinois about two years ago, at the beginning of a presidential campaign.”
Michelle Obama came back to eat there once she was first lady.
His favorite guest to cook for, however, was the late Senator Ted Kennedy, who he cooked for “at least 100 times at Bistro Bis.” As soon as Kennedy heard Armstrong’s accent, he started introducing him to all of his Senate friends as “our chef.”
“He liked his liver and onions,” Armstrong says.
Armstrong grew up in a suburb of Dublin called Killiney, “Which is where Bono's house is, actually,” he notes with a chuckle. “But we didn't live in that neighborhood. We lived on the other side of town.”
He went to a small, all Gaelic-speaking school, played hurling for the Dublin minors and moved to the United States in 1990, just two weeks short of his 21st birthday. He landed a job at Murphy's Irish Pub in Woodley Park, and the plan was to “earn some fast cash and get out of the restaurant business” and head back to London to attend culinary school.
“That was about 19 years ago,” laughs the man who got his U.S. citizenship about five years ago but still thinks in Irish. He has come a long way.