Monday, March 23, 2015

Washington Social Diary: Chocolates and the Edwards Family

The Edwards siblings during their Bush White House years -- Dana Manatos, Chris and Mark Edwards on board one of the presidential jets.
by Carol Joynt

Since writer and Clinton insider Sidney Blumenthal first applied it to a Washington theatrical satire he wrote and staged in the '90s, the term “this town” has been tossed around, used and abused, co-opted, borrowed, landed on blogs, and on books and magazine articles, gossip columns and in countless Tweets and salutations. But every now and then it still has some meaning and this very Washington tale is an example. It has key components of the trope: politics including the White House, a presidential campaign, Capitol Hill, Hollywood, money, and social life.

Let’s return to March 2012 and the Washington premiere of the HBO film, “Game Change,” in which Julianne Moore portrayed GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who was on the failed ticket with John McCain in 2008. It was a glamorous premiere, for Washington, and had a lot of real Washington people mixing it up with Hollywood people who play them in the film. Making a cameo in a movie, or being portrayed in a movie, is Washington’s heroin.
At the "Game Change" premiere where this story begins, Albert Fonticiella, Sandy Bainum and Chris Edwards. (Photo by Jeff Martin)
A friend pulled me across the vast Newseum lobby, saying, “Chris Edwards is here. You have to meet him. His character is in the film. He was on Palin’s campaign staff.” We made our way through the crush until we were face to face with a handsome young man, the very Chris Edwards, who was with his equally handsome partner, Albert Fonticiella, an MBA student at Georgetown University.  Chris, who was portrayed in the film by actor Larry Sullivan, seemed pleased with the whole HBO project, but said he was no longer working in Republican politics.
Chris Edwards at a party at The George Town Club. When this photo ran on NYSD in January 2013, Chris was identified as "the chocolate king of Washington." Since then he's expanded his borders.
Before moving back to Pittsburgh to become CEO of the family business, Chris Edwards made the DC scene. Here he is with Ashley Taylor Bronczek at the Meridian Ball in 2012.
A few days later, on a Saturday, casually wandering through Dean & Deluca in Georgetown, I spotted Chris and Albert at a display table, handing out samples of Easter chocolates. “What are you two doing here,” I asked. Chris explained that his family owned a chocolate company based in Pittsburgh, Edward Marc. That while he, his sister, Dana Edwards Manatos, and his brother, Mark Edwards, all had worked at the White House for President George W. Bush the real business was the chocolate company that had been in their Greek family since 1914.
Kyle Samperton, mind-melding with Chris Edwards at the George Town Club.
“Do you have a store in Washington?” I wondered. “Yes,” he said, “but it’s at the Pentagon. That’s where I work with my sister, running that store. It’s the only chocolate store in the Pentagon.” This news was both good and bad. Good because the delicious chocolates were nearby, but bad because to get to the shop would require a security clearance.  No problem, Chris said, if I wanted to come visit he would get me through the background check, the gates and past the bomb sniffing dogs and to the other side of the metal detectors.

One day in April I was cleared and in, along with photographer Jeff Martin. We came to visit Chris and Dana and to do a story for Washingtonian magazine. The Edward Marc shop was at a busy intersection inside one of the several rings of the military industrial complex, and the people busily passing by, or stopping in to purchase a chocolate Pentagon (the best-selling item), were mostly in uniform.
Chris Edwards and sister Dana Manatos in the late great Edward Marc chocolate shop at the Pentagon. (Photo by Jeff Martin)
In a busy intersection inside the military industrial complex, Edward Marc sold chocolate and other bon bons. (Photo by Jeff Martin)
Eat the Pentagon, in chocolate (Photo by Jeff Martin)
We perused all the pretty candy, including colorful foil-wrapped Easter eggs with centers of raspberry-truffle, coconut, vanilla buttercream and dark chocolate.  There were chocolate versions of the White House, the Presidential Seal, the insignias of the different branches of the military, but also chocolate dipped strawberries (Dana was making those), truffles, and beautiful slabs of chocolate bark, along with jelly beans, malted balls and nonpareils.
Dana Manatos dips strawberries in fresh chocolate. (Photo by Jeff Martin)
Chris explained that while he was on the campaign trail with Palin he “would occasionally show up with many boxes of chocolates for our long times on the road.” Palin’s favorite? The peanut butter meltaway. He also made chocolates for then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and for Hillary Clinton, who was Secretary of State. “Clinton has the State Department seal and her signature on her chocolates. It’s a solid chocolate medallion. We make them in milk and dark.”
Menu from a luncheon hosted by Nancy Pelosi as Speak of the House, with a custom Edward Mac chocolate on the napkin.
My preference was the excellent dark chocolate almond bark, but Chris wanted us to try a new product – Snappers – which were crunchy pretzels blended with chocolate and caramel. He sent me back to the office with three bags for the staff. The Snappers disappeared in, well, a snap.

Which brings us up to 2015. The other day I got in touch with Chris on another matter and he dropped the news that the Pentagon shop closed in January. Not because it was a failure – in truth, he said, it was “hugely successful” – but the family needed to focus its attention on an even bigger success, the Snappers.
“The success of Snappers has helped us become one of the fastest growing chocolate companies in the U.S.,” he wrote in an email. “We are delivering to 40,000 retailers in the next two months – Target, Costco, Walgreens, CVS, Bed, Bathy & Beyond, Fairway Markets. I moved back to Pittsburgh to take over as CEO and open our new 50,000 square foot manufacturing plant.” Albert got his business degree from GU and is “now working in the family biz full time.” Chris wrote, “our advisors include the founder of Dove Chocolates, the creator of Snickers Ice Cream Bar and the Director of Sales at Kashi. It’s truly one for the history books.”

A particularly bright note of the story was at the end of his message. “Very happy you were shopping at Dean & Deluca that day after the ‘Game Change’ premiere. Just think, this all started with one article you wrote over two years ago. Little did we know the rocket ship was launched.” What can I say, other than this town.
At Dean & Deluca in New York, Albert Fonticiella offers samples of Edward Marc chocolates. A business school grad, he now works for the "family biz."

The hottest reservation in Washington on Saturday night was for a table at a restaurant at a shopping center off Lee Highway in Arlington, Virginia. That’s where chef Peter Chang opened up his new place just last week. To mark the occasion, food writer Tim Carman put his compelling story on the front page of The Washington Post food section, giving the background on Chang’s break from the Chinese Embassy, where he was head chef, and his journey of running and hiding out from authorities until now.

I got a reservation and got a food posse together – my son, Spencer, and our friend Francesca Saunders, who is a student at Georgetown University and game for good eating. (She just completed a semester abroad in Florence, Italy.)
Here's where you'll find Peter Chang's: in an Arlington shopping center, the restaurant under the Oriental Gourmet sign.
Packed but so new that on Saturday night Peter Chang's did not yet have a liquor license.
From the inside, looking out at those patiently waiting for a table.
In China, Chang achieved the status of “master chef,” and a resume of high-end Beijing restaurants, which is how he was chosen in 2001 to be the chef for the Chinese ambassador to the U.S. He moved to Washington with his wife, Lisa, to work and raise their family. He bolted from the embassy in 2003, but you should read about that in the Carman story here, which also explains how Chang achieved cult status among area food fanatics as they pursued his fine cooking from one obscure area outpost to another.
Peter Chang business partners Gen Lee and his wife, Mary Lee, who keep the dining room humming while Chang cooks and supervises the kitchen.
My own obsession with good authentic Chinese cooking dates back to when President Richard Nixon first went to China. In New York this historic event spawned a boom of fine Chinese dining, with chefs and restaurants replicating the menus Nixon and his party enjoyed in Beijing.  Once you’ve tasted the authentic cooking of the Chinese provinces it is impossible to go back to the ordinary. Washington, sadly, has more ordinary than authentic, which is how Chang became such a hot item for food lovers.
From the appetizers menu, Peter's Big Bun, Chang's version of a broth dumpling.
From the "specialities" menu, Jumbo Shrimp with Peppers and Garlic.
As big as bocce balls, the Scallion Bubble Pancake.
From the "specialities," Golden Mountain Chicken. (Good bring home, too, for a midnight snack).
Another interesting aspect of the Chang story is that this now makes three opportunities (as far as I know) for Washington diners to experience the cooking of former embassy head chefs. There is Chang, who has other restaurants including in Charlottesville and Williamsburg, there is also Bart Vandaele, who was chef for the ambassador of the Netherlands, and a former “Top Chef” contestant, and who owns Belga Cafe and B Too near Capitol Hill, and Francis Layrle, who was head chef at the French Embassy and now has La Piquette in Cleveland Park.
The food posse: Francesca Saunders and Spencer Joynt after ordering.
And then as the feast began.

Larry King, the man and his legendary broadcasting career, were honored at the Newseum this past week. He told his life story to an audience of more than 350. After, there was a reception in the main lobby with a smaller gathering upstairs. That’s where I got to have a happy reunion with Larry and former colleagues from Larry King Live.
Happy reunion: CJ and LK.
Larry lives in California but Washington still has a piece of his heart. The night before the Newseum event he had dinner at what is still known as his table at The Palm. Larry, who is 81 years old, looked and sounded happy and healthy and was relaxed in the spotlight as friends and fans asked for a photo. The paparazzi swarmed. The prevailing comment was that CNN iced his show way too soon.

The coolest job title I ever had was while I was a producer for Larry. I was his “big game hunter,” which translated as negotiating with the biggest “gets,” including Elizabeth Taylor, Al Pacino, Bill Murray, Christopher Reeve, Paul Newman, Eddie Murphy, Harrison Ford, as well as memorable interludes with Leona Helmsley, John Kennedy Jr., Carolyn Bessette and Princess Diana.
Some of the old gang: CNN producer Carrie Stevenson, CJ, LK, and Barbara Berti, who is now with Al Jazeera.

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt