It’s a rare day off for chef Cedric Maupillier and his wife, Dawn Swaney, and they’re doing what chefs often do when they’re not at work: cooking. In the airy, white kitchen of their Shaw apartment one late afternoon, he puts the finishing touches on a roasted Rohan duck with chestnuts, Brussels sprouts, fingerling potatoes and turnips while she pours two glasses of Riesling. They will take their meal to the living room, where a white custom Joybird sofa and a Parsons coffee table do double duty as dining furniture. Floor-to-ceiling corner windows flood the room with light during the day and present a spectacular third-floor view of DC’s vibrant nighttime cityscape.
If Maupillier—a five-time semi-finalist for a James Beard Foundation Best Chefs in America award—wasn’t already one of the capital’s premier chefs and restaurateurs, he could be in public relations touting the advantages of city living. They are even more abundant when you live over the shop and your workplace is a short stroll away: His popular restaurant, Convivial—where Swaney is sous chef—is located on the ground floor of their apartment complex, City Market at O.
“It’s like living in a hotel,” Maupillier enthuses. “Everything is convenient. We can access the largest Giant in the region without leaving the building. The roof feels like a park, with a pool, dog park, barbecue and fire pits.” And, he notes, some of the best bars and restaurants in town (besides Convivial) are nearby: The Dabney, Kinship, All-Purpose, Chaplin’s, Beau Thai, Smoked and Stacked, Espita Mezcaleria and The Columbia Room.
Maupillier originally came to the U.S. from his native France in 2003 to work for Fabio Trabocchi at Tysons Corner’s now-shuttered Maestro. At Citronelle, he worked as executive sous chef for the late, renowned Michel Richard, who was his mentor. In 2007, he opened Richard’s much-ballyhooed bistro, Central Michel Richard—winner of a James Beard award for best new restaurant in the U.S.—and began making a name for himself. He became executive chef at Mintwood Place in Adams Morgan in 2011—and soon achieved superstar status on DC’s culinary scene.
Once at Mintwood Place, Maupillier adjusted his sights. “After a year, I wanted to see what ownership was all about,” he recalls. “I wanted to be freer, more independent.” Mintwood restaurateur Saied Azali approached him with an offer: a majority partnership in a new eatery,
Convivial, to be located in DC’s trendy Shaw neighborhood.
Maupillier envisioned an outpost that would live up to its name: a casual spot where people could come for a nibble, a cocktail, small plates or a full-fledged meal. It opened in November 2015, featuring Maupillier’s clever riffs on French bistro food—for example, garlicky escargots “in a blanket,” wrapped in crunchy pastry tubes.
Maupillier and Swaney worked together first at Citronelle, then at Central. “We spent so much time together in the kitchen that it didn’t make sense not to be dating,” Maupillier jokes. Swaney joined him as sous chef at Mintwood Place, then moved with him to Convivial. The two married in August 2017 with the French Alps as a backdrop.
Today, the couple works about 70 hours a week at Convivial (Maupillier remains executive chef at Mintwood as well), leaving little room for fine dining at home. “I want pizza after work every night, but Dawn doesn’t let me,” says Maupillier ruefully. “She says, ‘Have a salad.’”
Even with their hectic schedules, Swaney does manage to cook at home twice a week, recently serving a clam chowder topped with poached oysters and mackerel that Maupillier deemed “fantastic.” Their fridge boasts mostly staples—beer, Champagne, Perrier, butter, yogurt, cheese, milk and deli meats. Yet despite the proximity of a very well-stocked larder nearby, they scrupulously do not borrow from it. “We never take things from the restaurant and never drink there,” Swaney avers.
Personal touches abound in the newlyweds’ apartment: a picture of the couple sailing on the Potomac, Maupillier’s extensive collection of cookbooks, paintings bought from an artist outside Paris’s Pompidou Center last summer, family pictures—and a stunning drawing of a tree Maupillier found at a store in Adams Morgan. “We don’t have the money to buy art,” he says, “but it made me think of Dawn.”