Photographs by Chris Leaman
Not even an economic crisis—or a $175 ticket—could keep foodies away from the Capital Food Fight, the annual fundraiser for DC Central Kitchen and one of the most anticipated events of the year. Close to 40 restaurants offered one-bite seasonal dishes in the two-story rotunda of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. The main attraction, however, was a series of Iron Chef-inspired culinary battles, complete with secret ingredients, among five chefs—former Hook chef Barton Seaver, Tribeca Grill’s Stephen Lewandowski, Citronelle’s David Deshaies, the Oval Room’s Tony Conte, and PS7’s Peter Smith—who fought for bragging rights until next year.
The final round pitted Smith against defending champ Seaver in a battle of Szechuan-pepper buttons, a potent yellow bud that packs an electrically spicy flavor. Seaver, who claims he’d rather be a professional activist than a chef, once again reigned supreme and took home the trophy—a set of boxing gloves. Read on for some of our favorite moments of the evening.
Most honest quote by a host: Spanish chef and longtime Food Fight host José Andrés was in Los Angeles working on his soon-to-open hotel restaurant—his duties were taken over by chef Ris Lacoste—so his contribution came via a pretaped video with a lengthy apology. Upon taking the stage, cohost and TV personality Ted Allen exclaimed, “I can never understand a word that guy says!”
Dish that made us forget any economic woes: A tie between Taberna del Alabardero’s veal tongue with dried tomatoes, pine nuts, capers, and the season’s first white truffles, and a violet-beet macaroon filled with a foie-gras mousse from Volt’s Bryan Voltaggio. If only he could make financial problems melt away like that expensive treat.
Most inventive use of pumpkin: Enough with the soups already! Rock Creek at Mazza used the fall vegetable to flavor focaccia. The cushy square was topped with a cherry chutney, a slice of house-smoked Peking duck, and a sprinkle of fleur de sel.
Most shameless (yet delicious) display of calories: Ryan Morgan, chef de cuisine at Art and Soul, handed out macarini, or fried macaroni-and-cheese balls. That’s right—the comfort-food favorite can be turned into something even more decadent than it usually is.
Most over-the-top display: 701 restaurant, winner of the night’s People’s Choice Award, had a table that included miniature ice-cream cones propped upside down on fake grass and a mirrored platform that held ribbon-tied bundles of salmon belly and tuna tartare, sweet soy tapioca pearls, and crème fraîche. Chefs squirted the tartare into a cone and dipped it into a dish of Pop Rocks.
Most unusual ingredient: Hook sprinkled a three-fish crudo with little kernels of manna, dried sap from the roots of a Middle Eastern bush, which was—despite its origin—surprisingly refreshing and sweet.
Best musical number: Longtime DC Central Kitchen supporter Bob Torray accepted his Partner of the Year award with a brief rendition of Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful.”
Live-auction heroes: While emcee Mark Kessler (voice of the Washington Redskins) was practically begging a cash-strapped audience to bid on auction items, husband and wife Gary and Desiree Littlestar bid against each other to raise big-ticket lots above their estimated value. They took home a collection of All-Clad, Oxo, and KitchenAid kitchen tools for $3,000 and a year of fine dining for $9,000.
Best description of an exotic ingredient in layman’s terms: In the first cook-off, Citronelle executive chef David Deshaies used katafi, shredded phyllo dough. When Ted Allen saw him drop it into a deep fryer, he proclaimed: “It’s better than a bloomin’ onion!”
Obligatory crushing on Barton Seaver comment: When Ris Lacoste asked the judges what they thought of Seaver’s creating not one but two dishes for the final competition, Ridgewells Catering CEO Susan Lacz said, “I don’t know. I’m still confused by those tight jeans. I love tight jeans—they should make chef pants that tight.” Lacoste assured Peter Smith, Seaver’s opponent, that there wasn’t a “tight jeans” category on the scoring sheet.
Touché: When Seaver and Josh Whigham took the stage to battle Smith, an audience member snarked that the two stylish former Hook chefs might be more at home in a boy band.