News & Politics

Governor McAuliffe, Drag Queens, and a Feast of Food and Drink Highlight Chefs for Equality Dinner

The evening's theme was "Virginia Real," to highlight the push for marriage equality in the state.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe arrives at the Chefs for Equality dinner. He didn't want to pose alone and so pulled this unsuspecting, and phone-bound, staffer into the shot. Photographs by Carol Ross Joynt.

With Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe in the room, it had to be a routine Washington party, right? Then what about Felicia Beefeater and her red silk, feathers, and ample bosom? Felicia, also known as A.J. Dronkers, was one of the drag queens on hand, all done up as belles of the ball (and, fortunately, not as the governor’s friend Hillary Clinton). Since many guests wanted photos with them, the drag queens owned the loud, frolicsome, food-and booze-saturated night at the third annual LGBT Chefs for Equality feast. However, it was McAuliffe who was the official featured attraction—on hand to underscore the evening’s theme of “Virginia Real,” in support of marriage equality in his state.

The party of 500 guests had been underway for two hours when McAuliffe bounded down the stairs of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel into a ballroom that felt like midnight at U Street’s Town Danceboutique, which is why it is easily one of the most fun—and delicious and intoxicating—charity fundraisers of the fall season, maybe the whole year. Raising funds for the Human Rights Campaign, it successfully lifts the ubiquitous food trough event into an orbit all its own, where even the celebrity chefs in attendance—and most are on hand—call it a command performance. Two years ago the featured speaker was Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, after that state approved same-sex marriage. This year it was McAuliffe’s turn. From the raised deejay booth in the middle of the ballroom, and during a rare moment of relative quiet, he declared that Virginia is “going to have marriage equality. As governor . . . I promise you that.”

The annual summer Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington awards gala (a.k.a. the RAMMYS) is about the business of restaurants, but Chefs for Equality is all about the men and women who do the cooking, pour the wine, and mix the cocktails. They showed up to oversee the dozens of food “stations” representing the city’s top restaurants and bars, and another 23 chefs paired up to cook and serve seated dinners to folks who paid $5,000 per table. There was one table of 16 that cost $16,000, but they also got double the chefs, including Fabio Trabocchi of Fiola and Fiola Mare, Patrick O’Connell of the Inn at Little Washington, Eric Ziebold of CityZen, and Frank Ruta. Baker Mark Furstenberg of Bread Furst (where Ruta cooks) stood by, slicing his signature crusty bread for all nine of the private tables.

While tricked-out tables were hubs of culinary creativity, there’s always one table that is earns the title of “most buzzed-about.” This year it was a table all the way over in the corner presided over by chefs Peter Chang of Peter Chang’s China Cafe and Scott Drewno of the Source. “Where’s Peter Chang? I want to see Peter Chang’s table,” was overheard often in the crush of the crowd. Who was the lucky guest who claimed the Chang-Drewno table? “Conrad Kenley, a wine connoisseur,” said the evening’s organizer, David Hagedorn. “If he and his girlfriend are not off in some exotic location drinking incredible wine, they are at dim sum brunch at the Source.”

For the mere mortals who paid $150 per ticket and who didn’t have a private table, it was still a feast of extravagance, starting right at the front entrance where Red Truck Bakery’s Brian Noyes was serving up blueberry cake and moonshine cake—and moonshine, a big jar of it that he gladly opened and served to the brave takers. Erik Bruner-Yang of Toki Underground served a salad of snakehead fish; Mockingbird Hill’s Chantal Tseng produced a cocktail called Grapes of Wrath made with rye, sherry, coffee, and absinthe; Jack Rose Dining Saloon served pimiento cheese and prosciutto on a buttermilk biscuit; and 1789’s Ryan Westover served red velvet wedding cake, as part of a larger presentation of wedding cakes, with an obvious nudge-nudge to Virginia.

The food item of the night, though, was easily foie gras. Le Diplomate was one of several restaurants serving the luxury item, its signature foie gras parfait. However, Le Diplomate’s general manager, William Washington, was spotted making a beeline to the Red Hen‘s table, where chef Michael Friedman was serving foie gras “tiramisu.” Washington stepped right up: “I’m told that of everything here tonight, this is the one.” We can’t argue. 

Felicia Beefeater, a.k.a. A.J. Dronkers, poses with fans from the Roosevelt.
William Washington, general manager of Le Diplomate, seems quite pleased after taking a bite of the Red Hen’s foie gras “tiramisu.”