Shortly after she graduated from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York, Dara Lyubinsky became a regular at Whole Foods. Clad in her stiff white chef’s coat, she wandered around the meat section, randomly giving advice to shoppers about meat cuts and recipes right before handing them her business card.
Flash forward one year and the Wootton High School graduate found herself cooking in the homes of New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning and NBC sports commentator Bob Costas.
Lyubinsky, a 31-year-old Bethesda resident and mother of 4-week-old Noa, may have graduated University of Maryland with a degree in political science and communications, but she’s all about food.
The Bethesda resident doesn’t just make her living cooking meals for others. She does the shopping at farmers markets for fresh, in-season food and then prepares several days’ worth of breakfasts, lunches and dinners, each designed specifically with the family’s dietary needs in mind. Her finishing touch involves making sure each platter appears ready to be photographed in a cooking magazine, with an array of colors and textures designed to make any mouth water.
Lyubinsky actually started out in what she thought was a dream job in publicity and ended up despising it. To keep her spirits up, Lyubinsky would go home and cook. Her then boyfriend, now husband suggested she go to culinary school. “I laughed at him and nine months later, I went,” she said.
It was a busy time of working during the day, going to school at night and planning a wedding in between. One week after finished culinary school, she was laid off from her job, calling that “b’shert, the universe kicking me out on my tuchas,” she said.
So with no job, Lyubinsky turned to Whole Foods. “I got my first client at the meat market,” she recalled. Things snowballed from there, and she soon was cooking meals for several families and also styling foods, including for the television show The View.
While living in New York, she was listed with a staffing agency and found herself cooking for a few famous people. It was not uncommon for her to get to the Manning residence around 1 p.m. and cook a lot of meals, packaging them up for the week, and saving the last, still hot, meal for the family’s dinner that night.
They liked roasted chicken with the vegetables included rather than separate, she recalled. “They were the nicest people, sweet, friendly,” she said, adding, “My Washington Redskins family had some choice words for me when I was cooking for him.”
She also cooked for Bob Costas, who had posted a request for a cook at her culinary school. She met with his assistant who chose her from a lot of applicants. Costas favored her turkey burgers. He was very health conscious, she said. “He really takes good care of himself.”
During an interview last week in her apartment, equipped with both a large kitchen and a beautiful view of most of Bethesda, Lyubinsky talked about her company, Tastes Like More, and explained how she loves to cook with seasonal foods, taking a basic dish and elevating it to a new level. Roasted chicken is good, but surrounded it with colorful veggies and herbs is better. An everyday salad tastes fine, but a light autumn salad is preferable.
Currently she is cooking for families in the area, working to build her business to include clients with special dietary needs. Working with a nutritionist, Lyubinsky enjoys designing foods that a person loves rather than just eats it because the doctor ordered them.
She gained this skill while her mother, a cancer survivor, changed her tastes in food.
“I cook for families. A lot of the time, it’s two working parents with kids, and they don’t want to order pizza every night, and they care about what’s healthy,” she said.
She also can work on a larger scale and recently catered a dinner for young professionals at Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, the synagogue in which her parents are founding members.
Lyubinsky calls herself “a very interesting package,” who can cook, style and is friendly and safe enough to be welcomed into anyone’s home.
Although she fills some of her spare time by reading “magazines and cookbooks like most people read fiction books,” Lyubinsky said that a full day of cooking in someone else’s home usually means pizza for dinner for her and her husband – but probably not before she strolls through a local food market, checking what’s fresh and colorful for another day of cooking tomorrow.
This yummy chicken recipe that both looks and tastes great comes from the kitchen of Bethesda’s Dara Lyubinsky of Tastes Like More. As Lyubinsky explains, “For the holidays, I like to make the things I know everyone loves, but to kick them up a notch to make them a little more special for the occasion. Who doesn’t love roasted chicken? My family is Ashkenazi, but I like to use some flavors more commonly found in Sephardic cooking. This roasted chicken incorporates ingredients like za’atar, a tangy spice blend, and pomegranate molasses, which can both be found in the international aisle of most grocery stores.”
1 (5 lb.) roasting chicken
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 large bunch fresh thyme, plus 2 tablespoons chopped
1 lemon, halved
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, melted
4 tablespoons Za’atar, divided
1 large yellow onion, thickly sliced
8 heirloom rainbow carrots cut into 2-inch chunks
2 tablespoons Pomegranate molasses
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Pat the outside of the chicken with paper towels until it is very dry. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the thyme, both halves of lemon, and the garlic.
Brush the outside of the chicken with the butter and sprinkle with salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons of za’atar. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips underneath the body of the chicken. Place the onions and carrots in a roasting pan. Toss with salt, pepper, chopped thyme, remaining za’atar and olive oil. Spread around the bottom of the roasting pan and place the chicken on top.
Roast the chicken for 1 1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh. Move the chicken to a platter and cover with aluminum foil for about 15 minutes. Drizzle the Pomegranate molasses over the hot vegetables and toss to combine. Carve the chicken and serve over the vegetables. This chicken is delicious served with couscous garnished with fresh cilantro.