If it’s true that humans need to eat more in the depths of winter for warmth, then over this past weekend the city’s gourmet class were nicely fortified for the frigid days ahead.
The annual Sips & Suppers event—the creation of California culinary queen Alice Waters, Washington’s own superstar chef José Andrés, and food writer Joan Nathan—is a two-part extravaganza that raises money for Martha’s Table and DC Central Kitchen. On Saturday night, a massive, buffet-style feast attracted hundreds at $95 per person, followed by Sunday night’s seated dinner parties at private homes for $600 per person.
The combined events, over the past six years, have raised more than $1 million to help feed the homeless.
Saturday’s Sips took place on three floors of the Newseum, where some 700 patrons swarmed dozens of buffets prepared by Washington-area restaurants and bars, food trucks, food purveyors, and culinary entrepreneurs. Cashion’s Eat Place served a wicked Manhattan, while Hill Country dished up beef brisket and Rappahannock River Oysters offered freshly shucked shellfish. There was a bounty of vegetables from Martha’s Table, tuna ceviche from Oyamel, and a sampling of apple butter from Rodale Institute.
The earlier VIP reception featured wines from Virginia’s own RdV and Early Mountain vineyards, while chef Luigi Diotaiuti of Al Tiramisu (George Clooney’s favorite DC restaurant) gleefully served duck prosciutto. Nearby, Waters and Nathan sat side by side, selling and signing their cookbooks.
The Sunday suppers sell out fast, despite competition from the Grammy Awards and NFL Pro Bowl. Thirty-three suppers in all each featured pairs of noted chefs: Cedric Maupillier of Mintwood Place joined chef Matt Baker of the Occidental Grill to create a kosher meal at the home of Steve Rabinowitz and Laurie Moskowitz. Jeff Buben of Bistro Bis and Vidalia paired with Ris Lacoste of Ris to create a “modern American supper” at the home of Mary Challinor and Henry Richardson.
Other chefs whipping up dinners included Spike Mendelsohn, Todd Gray, Scott Drewno, Mike Isabella, Katsuya Fukushima, Erik Bruner-Yang, Marjorie Meek-Bradley, Jamie Leeds, and Cathal Armstrong.
I attended dinner at the Georgetown home of filmmakers Sarah and Bob Nixon, who also own the Beach Plum Inn on Martha’s Vineyard, where the Clintons and Obamas have been patrons. The Beach Plum’s chef, Chris Fischer, and his staff traveled from the vineyard to prepare the dinner for 27 with Spike Gjerde and his team from his Baltimore restaurants, Woodberry Kitchen, Artifact, and Shoo-Fly Diner. This was Gjerde’s second year overseeing the dinner at the Nixons.
The meal was a splendid three-hour show, both in the kitchen and in the dining room, which was braced by two roaring fireplaces. The evening began with a choice of Champagne or rum punch and an assortment of hors d’oeuvres, before the guests sat down to a seven-course repast that included Martha’s Vineyard oysters on the half shell, beef carpaccio, a salad of greens, grilled bread and honey, and whole-wheat rigatoni with fromage blanc and black pepper. A roast suckling pig arrived at the table on a platter with the pig’s head as a centerpiece.
A “restorative” fish broth marked the transition between courses, and the dinner finished with several courses of sweets. Many of the ingredients came from the Washington area and Martha’s Vineyard, including pork and beef from Fischer’s own Beetlebung Farm. The wines included Etude Chardonnay and Stags’ Leap Cabernet Sauvignon.
Also between courses was a video appearance by Waters, thanking the Sunday-night patrons and noting the evening’s twin goals of “trying to preserve the intimacy of the dinner party” and raising money.
Sarah Nixon spoke about growing up in DC in a family dedicated to helping the disadvantaged—“if someone was hungry, we fed them”—and her “special relationship” with DC Central Kitchen and Martha’s Table. Gesturing to chefs Gjerde and Fischer, Nixon said, “We are so lucky today because we have two awesome guys, who have come from far and farther. Spike and his wife, Amy, have made an incredible contribution to Baltimore; they have gone into areas at the moment of revitalization and done something from the ground up to make a contribution to that city.” Fischer, in addition to being a chef, is also a writer and contributes to the Vineyard Gazette.
The guests at the Nixon dinner included Dan Tangherlini, head of the General Services Administration, and his wife, Theresa (they are regulars); Deputy Attorney General James Cole and his wife, Susan; cooking-knife expert Jeffrey Elliot; labor lawyers Jules Bernstein and Linda Lipsett; Andrew and Leslie Cockburn; Susan DiMarco; Anne Luzzatto; Gordon Litwin; and, from George Washington University, Kirsten Gercke.