Monday, September 29, 2014

Washington Social Diary

The view from the DJ's booth, with the food stations in the foreground and the private tables -- there were 9 in all -- along the far wall. The 23 chefs who presided over the seated dinners did the cooking on the spot.
by Carol Joynt

While this is a dispiriting time to live in Washington for those in politics or government, a challenging time for those in the news media, and a cutthroat but profitable time for developers, there is one group that appears to be rolling in nothing but laughs and smiles. They are the city’s restaurant owners, chefs, bartenders and their staffs. Their zest for a good time never showed better than the other evening at the annual Chefs for Equality extravaganza, which raised money for the Human Rights Campaign. Held in West End at the Ritz Carlton hotel, the party flooded the lobby, hallways and ballroom with rollicking good fun plus a soundtrack of dance tunes more familiar in clubland after midnight.

David Hagedorn as the Chefs for Equality bash began.
In the middle of the sprawling party, serving as ringmaster, was food writer and event organizer David Hagedorn, who was eventually joined by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Periodically grabbing the spotlight from them was some formidable competition - drag queens, including “Felicia Beefeater” and “Dolly.” Going forward, shouldn’t every Washington party have a drag queen or two or three?

Chefs For Equality, in its third year, underscores that the restaurant scene is ascendant in Washington, and that it has come a long way from when a food trend was defined by a smoked salmon canapé (not that there’s anything wrong with a smoked salmon canapé). Along with fashion and sex, for decades this city treated eating out like something that had to be dealt with but not talked about unless it was also serving a (often devious) business purpose. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover famously went to lunch every day at the Mayflower Hotel, but he wasn’t there to celebrate how the food was sourced. Today he might be asking the provenance of the lamb chops. Really? Maybe not.

Washingtonians are eating out as never before, and while plenty of Machiavelli remains infused in the pursuit of breakfast, lunch and dinner, the cooks in the kitchens are popping with innovation and good spirit. They thrive even when a particular patron may not be aware of the creative experience at hand, but that said, Washington restaurant patrons are increasingly in synch with the scene.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe arrived two hours into the party. He grabbed an unsuspecting staffer because he didn't want to pose alone. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (right) with Lyndon Boozer of AT&T, who greeted him soon after.
And it makes sense. Washington has become an incubator for restaurant talent. We have the essential ingredients: creativity, curiosity, innovative spirit, skills, sophistication, and the sense of fun and shared purpose. There’s investor money, too. An ambitious food entrepreneur no longer has to go to New York to be part of a vibrant culture.

What makes Chefs for Equality notable is who shows up.  Lots of food trough events occur throughout the year – you know them well, restaurant food stations that fill a tent or ballroom – but this is one where most of the notable chefs make an appearance and make and serve the food.. It’s a “must” party for them and their staffs and, overall, a collective pat on the back for what they and the city (and nearby Maryland and Virginia) have achieved.
Brian Noyes of Virginia's Red Truck Bakery was the first chef to greet guests as they arrived, with his moonshine in hand.
Jeremiah Langhorne and Spike Gjerde. Paired up to cook for a private table were chefs Robert Wiedmaier of Marcel's and Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve. 
Fabio Trabocchi of Fiola and Fiola Mare and Patrick O'Connell of The Inn at Little Washington.
George Hastings of the Rappahannock Oyster Bar. Scott Drewno of The  Source with Cedric Maupillier of Mintwood Place.
Ham and scallop biscuits from Boss Shepherd's.
Foie gras tart from West End Bistro.
Between sampling each other’s fare and cocktails there’s a lot of hugging and kissing and selfie-snapping. They are so happy to see each other and to be together doing what they love.

Individual tickets were available for $150 or a group could buy a table for $5,000. The several tables got a seated dinner created by two chefs, who cooked in the Ritz ballroom.  For example, chef Spike Gjerde (Baltimore’s Woodberry Kitchen) and Jeremiah Langhorne (ex-Charleston, SC, now in DC) collaborated on a five course menu of Cured Meats & Oysters, Chesapeake Bouillabaisse, Next Step Farm on a Plate (squash, tomatoes, ground cherries, sweet potato, eggplant, and arugula ), MD Beef Wellington and VA Red Crab, and Smith Island Cake (brown butter cake and chocolate buttercream). The wines served were from Maryland and Virginia, including the rare RdV Vineyard 2009 “Rendezvous.”
This was the largest private table, double the size of the others and with double the chefs. It went for $16,000 to a group of 16 guests.
It was a seafood theme at the table catered to by chefs Ris Lacoste of Ris and Jamie Leeds of Hank's Oyster Bar.
DJ Shea Van Horn made sure the pace of the evening never let up. His booth loomed over the festivities from the middle of the ballroom.
The locavore aspect of the foods served was tied to the evening’s theme, “Virginia Real,” which was tied to the push to get marriage equality passed in Virginia, which is why the state’s governor, Terry McAuliffe, was the evening’s featured speaker. He climbed into the deejay booth in the middle of the room and vowed to get the legislation passed. Virginia is “going to have marriage equality. I promise you that.” Two years ago Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley was the guest of honor, after his state did approve same sex marriage.

Pictures tell a story, especially with an event such as Chefs for Equality. See all the smiling faces? I didn’t get to everyone, but what I have here serves as sampling of some of Washington’s most talented individuals, who put on one of the year’s best parties.  
Felicia Beefeater, also known as A.J. Dronkers, was asked to pose in many photos, including with this group of fans from the Roosevelt.
Felicia Beefeater with Spencer Joynt and Lyndon Boozer. We have her name as only "Dolly" but she was one of the belles of the Chefs for Equality party.
Sarah, of Jack Rose Dining Saloon, with canapés of pimento and prosciutto.  Le Diplomate's general manager, William Washington, samples the foie gras tiramisu from Red Hen chef Mike Friedman.
Foie gras was ubiquitous at Chefs for Equality, where the chefs contribute all the food. The foie gras tiramisu of Red Hen chef Mike Friedman, on the left, was a particular favorite.
Frederik De Pue, chef and owner of Menu MBK and Table with Sharika Perkins, one of the cooks at Table. Mockingbird Hill served up a punch called Grapes of Wrath, which included rye, sherry, coffee and absinthe. It's mixologist, Chantal Tseng, is on the right. 
Eric Ziebold of CityZen with bread baker Marc Furstenberg, who provided all the bread for the private tables. 
As a nudge to the issue of marriage equality in Virginia, pastry chefs creates wedding cakes. This is the red velvet version from Ryan Westover of 1789. John Quinn, the Ritz Carlton's executive pastry chef, with the hotel's dessert offering, colorful, glittery cake balls.
Red Truck Bakery's popular Moonshine Cake.
Septime Webre of The Washington Ballet, a guest at one of the private tables, marvels at the wine being served.  Daren Thomas is served a fine Bordeaux at the table of chefs Spike Gjerde and Jeremiah Langhorne.
Tête-à-tête with fine wine. Janice Kim and Marc Pullo.
James Alefantis, owner of Comet Ping Pong, with Izette Folger. Jason Hanny of MICROS Systems had the right idea: load up a plate with carry-out desserts.
Chefs for Equality is an evening of fun for the DC restaurant industry, and a fun party always includes some dish. "You're kidding?" "No, I'm not."

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt