For more than a dozen years, O’Faolain’s Irish Pub and Restaurant in Sterling has been a local favorite, serving up classic Irish comfort food like shepherd’s pie and Guinness stew. This year, the restaurant brought on an innovative young chef to update the menu with fun seasonal specials. With her high energy and red hair, 32-year-old chef Britt Scholler fits right in at the family-oriented pub. And while the Irish classics on the menu aren’t going anywhere, regulars and newcomers alike are getting a taste of Scholler’s fresh twists on Irish cuisine.
Scholler, an Indiana native, is a former volunteer with Ashburn Volunteer Fire and Rescue and mom to two girls, ages 3 and 5.
Loudoun Now: What are some of the things you’re doing to update the menu?
Britt Scholler: We’re bringing a new idea to what pub food is … I trained using classical techniques, but I like doing modern classical, so I like using ideas from Irish cuisine like root vegetables and fresh ingredients and doing things simple but elevated. … We have wings and onion rings but you can also come in and get a lobster tail on a Friday or Saturday. That’s where I’m going with the specials—bringing that comfort food but a little bit more elevated.
For the new menu, we’re going to be doing pork belly bites, meatballs with bacon jam and a curried crème fraîche. I have a gluten-free meatloaf that’s going on the menu that’s very homey and very nice. … We’re doing a Jameson-glazed steak with a pickled red cabbage. It’s a little bit sweet and gives you a little bit of home and it’s still very Irish. We got a new idea from [bar manager] Francis [Thornton] to take the Irish boxty, which is a potato pancake, and make it a waffle, and we did chicken and waffles. It was a fun, homey dish, and it went over very well when we did a test run.
LN: How does seasonal cooking fit in with what you’re doing?
BS: For fall, I’m doing a butternut squash ravioli with sausage in a brown butter sauce with bacon and pomegranate seeds, so we’re really bringing those fall flavors out. I’m also doing a beet pasta—any of the specialty pastas I make here, so I get to experiment. I look at what’s in season and what flavors go with the season and that’s what I base my specials on.
LN: Tell us about your background.
BS: I’ve been working in restaurants for 14 years. I’ve worked just about every position in a restaurant. I started professionally cooking four years ago, but I always knew I wanted to be a chef. When I was 15, my grandmother was opening a restaurant and interviewing chefs so I got to see the whole process and I was like, “This is what I want to do.”
I’m originally from Indiana, which is where I went to culinary school. It was an excellent program at Ivy Tech Community College in Muncie. I was top of my class and was on a competition team. It was a really great experience. … I started off working catering in Muncie as a line cook and then I went to a restaurant called Grains & Grill in Fairmount, Indiana which is James Dean’s hometown. They’ve been doing really well and have gotten some recognition. Then I moved to West Palm Beach and worked for a restaurant called Bowery under a Michelin-starred chef and learned a lot as the sous [chef] there. It’s been a crazy but great adventure.
LN: What made O’Faolain’s a good fit for you?
BS: I love that we are a very small, dedicated crew. It is very much like family. It’s amazing. We all work together to make it happen and that’s important—the family aspect and the team aspect. We’d all go to bat for each other in a heartbeat. It’s atmosphere and community. We have a great atmosphere and we involve everyone.
LN: Would you say Irish food is fun to work with?
BS: I get to be very creative. [Irish food] can be kind of bland but it’s very comforting. I just take that comfort food aspect and the ideas of fresh ingredients like root vegetables and incorporate it into what I’m doing.
LN: The culinary industry is a field that’s still guy-heavy. How has that been for you in your career?
BS: I worked very hard to get to where I am and I never viewed it as a competition. I’m just going to do what I do, and I’m going to be that best at what I do. That was the attitude I’ve always had. I’ve definitely been in some kitchens where I’ve had some male bosses who were not particularly respectful towards female chefs, but they got over it. It’s a learning experience. I’ve been in kitchens where I’ve had people yell at me and throw things at me. It’s not pleasant but it’s one of those things where if you demand the respect you get it, and I’ve always demanded the respect.
LN: Is it tough balancing being a chef with being a mom?
BS: Some days more than others. If I’m having a busy weekend [at work] it’s not like I can sleep in because I’ve had a 12-hour day. My kids are still up at 6:30 in the morning. Luckily, I have a great support system to make sure I can do what I need to do. It does take a village, but, yes, it is hard to balance sometimes. I do get to spend nights at home with them, but not necessarily on weekends. When I started [cooking professionally], I was putting in 100-hour weeks and not seeing my kids and, really, just putting in the time and energy to get to where I wanted to be. Now that I’m in this position, it’s been nice to be able to have more time with the family.
LN: What do you like to make for your kids at home?
BS: Hope, my 5-year-old, is ridiculously picky. She would eat quesadillas and pizza every day of her life. Sophia, my 3-year-old, will eat anything you put in front of her. I did a stuffed acorn squash a few weeks ago and she was loving it. She’s the one that’s like “I want to try that!” If I’m eating it, she’ll eat it.
LN: Do you have tips for home cooks?
BS: Always keep learning. Start with a recipe. You start by following the recipe and then once you’re comfortable with that, you can go off from it and use it as an inspiration. And once you learn those basic things, then you can expand it and move forward and start doing more complicated things—and it’s easier than you think.
O’ Faolain’s is located at 20921 Davenport Drive in Sterling. Find more information at ofaolains.com.
To follow Britt Scholler on Facebook and get the scoop on weekly specials, go to facebook.com/brittshyreneculinary.