A Night Out: Women Chefs Turn Up the Heat!

All photos by Rachel Cothran.

Amanda Cook and Rachael Harriman of CityZen.

What: The third annual Women Chefs Turn Up the Heat! event to benefit the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance.

Where: The Ritz-Carlton Washington D.C.

When: Tuesday, February 26, 6:30 to 9:30 PM

Who: A great representation of women from local restaurant kitchens—chefs, pastry chefs, line cooks, and restaurateurs all took part. The crowd was mostly female, and some women brought their daughters as dates.

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Food: It seemed as if every upscale restaurant in town had a table proffering samples—some were bite-size hors d’oeuvres (salmon rilletes on toast from Jamie Leeds of Hank’s Oyster Bar), while others nudged toward full meals (meatloaf and mashed potatoes with sauces of black truffle, onion, and black currant from Colorado Kitchen’s Gillian Clark). The all-girl team from Willow—chef Tracy O’Grady, pastry chef Kate Jansen, and sommelier Alison Christ—presented one of our favorite bites of the evening: a wonderfully crispy crab cake, fried on the spot and served with ruby-red-grapefruit butter, purple potatoes, and watermelon radish.

Many eateries with big-name male chefs were represented by the women who work hard behind the scenes. Marcel’s line cook Sue Lim—who normally handles the restaurant’s fish station—dished out beef carbonnade with luscious potato purée and fried capers. City­Zen pastry chef Amanda Cook and sous chef Rachael Harriman offered the restaurant’s signature Parker House rolls stuffed with pomme purée and poussin confit. These bite-size sandwiches were a major hit—we couldn’t help going back for more (and one of the plain rolls, too, please?).

Because the pastry department is one female-dominated area of the kitchen, the evening stood out most for its selection of sweets. Former Palena pastry chef Ann Amernick, in her cute pink chef’s coat, had her famous caramels on hand. Other favorites included whoopie pies from Heather Chittum of Hook, carrot cake with ginger/cream-cheese frosting and candied carrots from Alison Reed of Cafe Saint-Ex and Bar Pilar, and soft chocolate with puffed soy from the Oval Room’s Joy Ludwig.

Drink: The best sip of the night? “Drinking chocolate” from baker Polly Brown, owner of Pollystyle Artisanal Baked Goods. The thick, not-too-sweet cocoa was reminiscent of the stuff we can find only in Europe and a few choice spots in New York. Other beverages included a selection of Rogue ale, Korbel Champagne, Five Rivers wine, and Santa Lucia Estate coffee.

Scene: The crowd—mostly dressed for the office, although there were a few cocktail dresses in the mix—mingled outside the ballroom and nibbled from a handful of appetizer stations until the main ballroom opened around 7. There, guests loaded up their plates at various restaurant tables and returned to their own tables to eat, then got up again for round two (and three . . .). After remarks from master of ceremonies Wendy Rieger of Channel 4 and representatives from the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, coordinating chef Ris Lacoste introduced the event’s special guest, legendary cookbook editor Judith Jones.

Best known for discovering Julia Child and getting Anne Frank’s diary published in America, Jones recently released her own memoir, The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food. Looking dignified in a lemon-yellow suit, perfectly bobbed haircut, and glasses, Jones had the crowd both laughing and tearing up as she spoke about her discovery of good food as a young woman in Paris and her experience with cancer in 1980. She ended with a subtle quip that received a standing ovation: “Cooking is the pleasure that lasts the longest, after all others have faded.”