Words and photos by Farrah Skeiky
The 10th anniversary of DC Central Kitchen’s premier fundraising event, the Capital Food Fight, brought together celebrity chefs and television personalities with an abundance of local talent intent on beating last year’s landmark goal of $500,000 raised for fighting hunger in DC. As if DC Central Kitchen’s mission isn’t easy enough to get excited about, its ambassadors and hosts José Andrés and Carla Hall took their everyday levels of exuberance to an unimaginable level. There’s no mystery behind Chef Andrés position as the Chairman Emeritus of DC Central Kitchen: in addition to his undying passion for food and hunger issues around the world, he brightens up any room with a larger than life personality the second he enters. As soon as he took the stage the event switched from fundraiser to party, and the party didn’t end until he danced off stage to Katy Perry. And Carla Hall, Top Chef alum, takes a hosts interaction with the battling chefs and secret ingredients to ridiculous heights. If it’s over the top for her, that’s saying something.
The slew of local and international celebrity chefs speak highly of DC Central Kitchen’s work. Only Chef Andrés could auction off a can of his own sea urchin caviar, sold at Whole Foods for $37.00, for $5000.00. The fanfare isn’t simply the result of big egos, but rather the motivational force behind breaking donation records. And it all quite literally paid off– 2012’s landmark amount was exceeded by another $100,000– bringing the 2013 Capital Food Fight’s fundraising total to $600,000.
The preliminary battles were split into two rounds: round one pitted Erik Bruner-Yang of Toki Underground and Maketto against Bertrant Chemel of 2941 Restaurant, with a secret ingredient of snakehead. Bruner-Yang came out on top with a Cambodian dish, which comes as no surprise as the fish is already part of the Cambodian culinary tradition. In round two, Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen faced Anthony Lombardo of 1789 Restaurant and was victorious with savory neck pumpkin pancakes topped with an even better homemade syrup. All the while, our hyper hosts used adjectives such as sexy and seductive to narrate the sights and smells on stage. Following a surprise battle that tested the celebrity chef judges with Chef Andrés own canned sea urchin, Bruner-Yang and Gjerde competed with the final secret ingredient: a Border Springs Farm lamb. In a very close call, Gjerde won the final round, proudly representing both Woodberry Kitchen and Baltimore; hopefully giving the Charm City gem the attention from the district that it deserves.
In the end, it’s easier to call the Capital Food Fight a rager rather than a fundraiser. Perhaps the high spirits were a result of, well, spirits, but a room full of people eager to learn more about the food they were eating, where it came from, and why that mattered is a rare sight. More astonishing is the amount of people who weren’t aware of the extent of DC Central Kitchen’s work. One thousand and more graduates of this amazing culinary education and career program have benefitted from the community staple far beyond the basic non-perishable food donation. It’s a DC institution getting more done than most of its peers– one that our political leaders could learn from.