By Julie Espinosa, Armando Gallardo
It’s no surprise that D.C. has slowly but surely become a foodie’s paradise. Last week, in what some consider one of the best food-related events of the year, Capital Food Fight took center stage at the Ronald Reagan Building for its 12th edition. The event brought together some of the best chefs representing 75 local restaurants in Washington D.C., hungry attendees, a series of fun-filled challenges, and, of course, the one and only, José Andrés. If that doesn’t sound like an evening destined to end in a food coma, you have no soul. Or stomach. Or you have a magical, never satiated, cursed stomach.
The event began at 5 p.m. with a VIP reception and was followed with general admission at $250 per ticket, which was more than worth it given the entertainment, open bar and unlimited food options from some of D.C.’s top restaurants. Add to that José Andrés, Carla Hall, Anne Burrell, Richard Sandoval and Spike Mendelssohn, and you have a recipe for instant success. As an added bonus, Mark Kessler performed as the master of ceremonies setting the stage for all spectators to feel as if the Redskins made it to the Super Bowl and this was their chance to cheer for RGIII. Kessler not only made us feel as if each ‘challenge’ was the semi-final of Top Chef but also helped to balance José Andrés’ persona, along with Carla Hall who at some point became one of the challengers for the “women’s team”. More on that later.
Capital Food Fight has not only become an event for foodies but also for philanthropists who see in DC Central Kitchen the heart of what the food industry should be doing for those in need. “You can give a man a fish or teach him how to fish,” said one of the hosts as they were discussing the mission of the non-profit which raised over $550,000 for its culinary training and anti-hunger programs at the end of the evening. The amount raised is of extreme importance given that 40% of its $13 million annual budget comes from charitable fundraising such as Thursday’s event. This might be the reason why when the time came to auction a dinner package for 6 worth $9,000 from 9 top restaurants in the District, the final bid was $15,000.
Needles to say, the food offered was delicious but what we really loved was some of the food for thought we heard from the chefs throughout the night. “What we try to do with our food is to chase flavors with the only goal of making the perfect BBQ. I make all my chefs watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi to understand the nuances that it takes to make good BBQ,” said Chef Andrew Evans from The BBQ Joint.
In addition to the tastings, the main events were Chefs challenges in the style of Top Chef with a TV crew broadcasting the action for the masses with the added, and highly praised, commentary of Andrés and Hall. Chefs Amy Brandwein, Harper McClure (BRABO), Nick Stefanelli (Masseria) and K.N. Vinod (Indique) created dishes in only 10 minutes with a secret ingredient such as squash, but which varied throughout the event. There was also a cake challenge which had everybody taking photos and posting them on Instagram with the hashtag #FoodFight.
As the evening was coming to the end, Carla Hall stepped down as a host and took the stage as a contestant in one of the challenges, with butter as the secret ingredient. Andrés encouraged the crowd to sing along to the 90s hit “Who Let the Dogs Out?,” changing the lyrics to “Who let the butter out?,” a request that left the crowd confused and wondering if it was time for another drink; with the crowd not really following through on his request, Andrés’ certainly thought so and demanded a gin and tonic.
In all, the event ended with attendees feeling stuffed, maybe a bit inebriated and José Andrés barely able to contain his excitement for the money raised for a fantastic organization.