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Words By Jonny Grave, Photos By Nicholas Karlin

Writing for Brightest Young Things, I’ve had a lot of strange things happen to me. I’ve met a sea lion, walked through subterranean tunnels under the Library of Congress, and even honked the Wicked Witch of the West’s prosthetic nose. This is a weird job, and I like it that way.

Nothing, however, can psychologically prepare an individual for getting frisked by Homeland Security before eating dinner. That was a new one.

On Wednesday evening, countries from all over the world sent their respective embassies’ best representatives to a competition of great international importance. The nations who signed up even allowed spectators to attend and vote on the competition. This is serious business, and countries’ reputations are at stake.

The competition, of course was the annual Embassy Chef Challenge, and the competing representatives were chefs from the embassies here in D.C.

For a night, the Ronald Reagan Building’s atrium was full of the smells of cuisine from all over the world. Chef upon chef was hard at work, putting their best dishes before the masses, submitting their work to be judged on the elements of taste, creativity, and presentation.

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While the well-heeled and well-boozed crowd moved from table to table, the DJ would periodically fade out to make sonic room for dance acts on the main stage. With the sequined dancers tossing scarves, and the vibrant feathered headdresses swaying back and forth, it’s as if the dancers arranged their act like the chefs plated their dishes. Or, maybe it’s the other way around.

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My partner Karlin and I were starved and moved into the mob. This was like wading through chickens at feeding time, only the chickens were human-sized, and they were all wearing fancy clothes. Getting to the tables full of an embassy’s food meant squeezing by the hens, and getting pecked by the roosters. Our patience and perseverance was rewarded, though. The Czech Republic had duck pâte wrapped in bacon. El Salvador had beer-braised beef on a tostada.

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In the end, after several rounds of whiskey, and voting on the dishes, it was Barbados that won, with Chef Creig Greenridge’s rum-infused Barbarian-seasoned pork. Karlin and I were even in the right place at the right time to shake the ambassador’s hand, which is another strange experience to add to my list. I thought shaking an ambassador’s hand meant there was some kind of gravitas involved with the experience, not just saying, “Wow, your guy can really cook.”

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