Sparring Celebs, Battling Chefs, and a Spicy Meatball: Scenes From the Capital Food Fight

Inside one of the year's most star chef-studded events.

Cohosts Anthony Bourdain and Carla Hall with a tricky competition ingredient: Buddha's hand. Photograph by Larry French/Getty Images for DC Central Kitchen.

The 11th annual Capital Food Fight went down last night at the Ronald Reagan Building, with an impressive 75 restaurants offering tastes and drinks to raise more than $700,000 for DC Central Kitchen. What made this different than Washington’s other food-filled galas: cohost Anthony Bourdain dissing pastry chefs, Daniel Boulud creating awkward moments on stage, and plenty of competition among local toques battling it out in a Top Chef-style cooking competition.

Ripple and Roofers Union executive chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley ultimately reigned supreme over the fight, besting Table‘s Frederik de Pue, Tim Ma of Maple Ave Restaurant and Water & Wall, and Javier Romero of Taberna del Albardero.

Meek-Bradley wasn’t the only one to leave last night with honors. Here are a few others we think deserve recognition.

Best newcomer: Mango Tree, slated to open at CityCenterDC before the new year, brought its A-game with a spicy bite of chargrilled steak salad with northeastern tamarind sauce. Hopefully it’s on the opening menu.

Most likely to merit seconds: Bayou Bakery‘s blackened lamb meatball with Trickling Springs yogurt.

Longest line: Woodberry Kitchen, for its made-to-order buckwheat crepes with smoked short rib, mushrooms, and sour cream.

Most clueless: Judge Daniel Boulud of DBGB DC who, after taking the stage for the first time, asked loudly, “Where’s José?” (The boisterous event founder and frequent emcee was mostly absent this year, besides a brief early appearance). After an awkward pause, Boulud continued: “Are we on for Iron Chef or Food Fight?” After hearing the answer: “Oh, Food Fight. Much better.”

Second most cluelesss: Bourdain butchering the names of local eateries when auctioning off dinners around town. “China…Chilcano?”

Best showdown: Bourdain insisted that he doesn’t like pastry chefs, which didn’t go over so well with Ace of Cakes star Duff Goldman. But Bourdain assured Goldman it wasn’t personal: “You can do something I can’t do. I resent that.” To which the shorter, stockier Goldman replied: “You can change a lightbulb without getting on a ladder. I don’t resent that.” “Well, maybe you should,” replied Bourdain.

Most memorable “technical term”: When cohost Carla Hall asked Ma how he was going to deal with cooking beef cheeks in ten minutes—the first battle’s secret ingredient, which typically requires lengthy braising to tenderize. “In about ten seconds, I’m going to pound the sh*t out of it,” said Ma. “Pounding the sh*t out of it—that’s a technical term,” Hall quipped. The technique was ultimately successful, as Ma’s beef cheeks cooked in soy sauce won favor with the judges over Romero’s stew with creamy potatoes.

Best description: “If you’ve killed someone and rolled them up in a tarp and then you’ve cleaned the hotel room—if you’ve done it well, it smells like that,” said Bourdain, attempting to describe the lemony-fresh scent of the second battle’s secret ingredient: Buddha’s hand. “It looks like something out of a horror movie,” Bourdain added. “It smells nice, though.”

The Washington-is-inferior-to-New York snub: Bourdain, on de Pue’s beautifully plated halibut and bok choy, seasoned with Buddha’s-hand zest: “I’d pay $29.95 for that—in New York. I guess in Washington I’d pay, what? $17.50?”

Associate Editor

Caroline Cunningham joined Washingtonian in 2014 after moving to the DC area from Cincinnati, where she interned and freelanced for Cincinnati Magazine and worked in content marketing. She currently resides in College Park.