When Ben Plyraharn was a child, his mother, a cook in a Thai restaurant in suburban Maryland, would bring him to work, where he’d watch all the activity from his seat atop a milk crate. That was likely the last time this energetic young chef sat still in a professional kitchen. After earning his Associate’s degree in Culinary Arts that the Art Institute of Washington, Plyraharn quickly joining the team at Bibiana Osteria-Enoteca alongside Stefanelli. Now, as a sous chef under chef Stefanelli, Plyraharn is proud to be part of the team that earned one of the first Michelin stars in the nation’s capital.
It was a Home Ec. class his sophomore year in high school that sparked Plyraharn’s real interest in professional cooking. He spent his senior year in the Restaurant Management Program at the local magnet school for technology, and following graduation, began work on an Associate’s degree in Culinary Arts at The Art Institute of Washington. One of his very first jobs was at Bibiana Osteria-Enoteca, where Stefanelli was making a name for himself as a gifted interpreter of Italian cuisine. Even as a novice in the field, Plyraharn recognized the simple genius in Stefanelli’s approach, taking no shortcuts and exalting the pure flavors of his ingredients, rather than imposing any unnatural manipulation.
Subsequent work over the next three years brought him a broad range of culinary experience, all in boutique Washington establishments, alongside inspired chefs: at Sūna, cooking modern American, Nordic, and Asian with chef Johnny Spero; and at Toki Underground, a casual upscale ramen shop, and Maketto, a Cambodian and Taiwanese restaurant, both by chef Erik Bruner-Yang.
By the time Stefanelli opened Masseria, Plyraharn had had the opportunity to travel in Italy, and was smitten by the cuisine. He jumped at the chance to work with Stefanelli and other friends from the Bibiana days who were now in the Masseria kitchen; early in 2016, he was promoted to sous chef. He’s proud to be part of the team that earned one of the first Michelin stars in the nation’s capital, but is quick to point that his passion for exquisite food is not about honors: “We’re all here for the same simple reason: to make things taste great!”