The gloves go to Haidar Karoum. Photograph by Jessica Voelker.
Proof’s executive chef Haidar Karoum emerged victorious last night at Capital Food Fight, the DC Central Kitchen Benefit that pits local chefs against each other in cooking competitions featuring secret ingredients. Karoum was battling Todd Gray (Equinox, Watershed) for the title; their final bout required the chefs to conceive a dish around Australian lamb top sirloin (Australian Lamb was a sponsor). Karoum’s winning dish showcased the protein in a coconut-milk-laced chickpea curry topped with a sprinkling of fried curry leaves. Narrating the proceedings were Anthony Bourdain and DC Central Kitchen advocate José Andrés. Ted Allen (of Chopped and Queer Eye fame), cookbook author Joan Nathan, and PBS personality Ming Tsai judged.
The standing crowd in front of the stage ebbed and flowed throughout the evening—shrinking between cookoffs and growing large during a surprise Top Chef bout in which Spike Mendelsohn and Carla Hall took on fellow TC alums Mike Isabella and the ever-formidable Jennifer Carroll. The crowd decided who won this competition, not by tasting the food but by applauding. Mendelsohn and Hall's victory may have had something to do with their willingness to chicken dance for the crowd. (Jennifer Carroll does not chicken dance for a crowd.)
A steady stream of banter poured forth from Bourdain and Andrés, who argued amicably about the relative talents of Top Chef contestants and told stories of vacations they've taken together. (Apparently Andrés isn't afraid to sport a Speedo.) Around 70 participating restaurants handed out bites like white asparagus flan with Sterling caviar (Sax), smoked andouille pâté with shrimp mousse on garlic bread (Bar Pilar), and smoked pumpkin panna cotta with bourbon gelée and pumpkin seed brittle (Vidalia) to the voracious throngs.