Iguana Meat, Padma’s Body Ham, and Kisses From José Andrés: Capital Food Fight Recap

Dining royalty descended upon DC Monday night for the biggest foodie event of the year. Here’s what happened.

The scene at Capital Food Fight. Photograph by Anna Spiegel.

The annual Capital Food Fight is one of the most entertaining culinary events of the year—and with Anthony Bourdain and José Andrés acting as hosts, how could it not be? The ninth Iron Chef-style fight went down Monday night at the Ronald Reagan Building with an all-star lineup, including local battling toques Adam Sobel (Bourbon Steak), Guillermo Pernot (Cuba Libre), Enzo Fargione (Elisir), and Jeffrey Buben (Vidalia, Bistro Bis) and celebrity judges Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods and Top Chef’s Padma Lakshmi and Carla Hall.

While 70 restaurants dished up food and drinks for 1,500 fight-goers, the competing toques took to the stage to prepare dishes for the judges with surprise ingredients like Honeycrisp apples and jamón ibérico. At the end of the night, birthday boy Jeffrey Buben claimed the title—and, even better, a kiss from José Andrés—and DC Central Kitchen raised $600,000 to help fight hunger in Washington.

But there was another winner yesterday evening: the city of Los Angeles. DC Central Kitchen founder and president Robert Egger announced he was stepping down after nearly 25 years with the organization and 40 in Washington to return home to LA, where he’ll launch a similar nonprofit venture, LA Kitchen. DC Central Kitchen CEO Mike Curtin will take over his role as president.

In addition to the main competition onstage, there were plenty of other battles fought through the evening. Below are some of the best.

Bourdain vs. Zimmern

There was plenty of friendly sparring between the Travel Channel stars throughout the evening. At one point, Zimmern asked Bourdain why he left him on the network—the No Reservations host recently announced plans to depart for CNN—to which Bourdain replied: “You’re the only guy left on that network they can get to eat nutsack.” Evidence of such was presented later, when Zimmern showed off a picture on his phone of squirrel testicles, which Padma compared to cannellini beans.

Chefs vs. Iguana

Bourdain and Zimmern went head to head for a bonus cooking competition, which featured the most exotic surprise ingredient of the evening: iguana. The best preparation of the skinned reptile went to Bourdain and his sous chef, Rock Harper, and bites of the dish were auctioned off to the audience for $1,000 a pop. On his winning technique for iguana: “I just buried it like a cat buries its crap,” said the chef.

New York vs. DC

Washington took a few jabs from the visiting celebs. “I’m not talking trash right now, but in New York we’d be well over $10,000,” remarked Bourdain during a live-auction round. Zimmern received a few boos for his “This is the best piece of tail I’ve seen in DC” comment upon seeing the iguana. But Andrés was quick to praise his home town. “In the rest of America, you need hours to cook. In Washington, DC, we only need ten minutes,” he said as the local chefs deftly plated their dishes.

Auction Winner vs. Body Ham

The DC Central Kitchen says the event was the most successful fundraiser to date, with big prizes like a trip to the Aspen Food & Wine Classic going for upward of $13,000. One of the more interesting bids: a single slice of Ibérico ham, which Lakshmi bargained off for $1,000. The winner was allowed to eat it off her neck.

José Andrés vs. the Porrón

After the competition wrapped up on stage, Andrés joined the chefs gathering around the Proof/Estadio table, drinking porróns—raising the Catalan-style wine pitchers above their heads to send a stream into their mouths. The chef managed to negotiate a pour without spilling, then took Lakshmi, Zimmern, and Bourdain to Jaleo Penn Quarter for paella and cocktails.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.