Last week I volunteered at an amazing charity food event! Common Threads held the DC World Festival. Over 20 of DC’s best and most celebrated chefs participated at this swanky fundraiser. The setting was the opulent Carnegie Institution.
Common Threads is an organization founded by celebrity chef Art Smith. It’s mission, to teach low-income children to cook wholesome and affordable meals sounds relatively simple but there is so much in it one can’t help but be impressed.
Think about this! This program takes on nutrition and childhood obesity, it bridges a cultural gap, it imparts skills that likely will become employment and even passion for many, and it teaches the inestimable value of people gathering to share a meal. That’s one hell of an after school program!
At times I was asked to help man a station and when I did the chef and I talked food. We talked cooking and technique and it was like I had happened upon a village of my own kind.
At the table for Jamie Leeds’ restaurant, Hank’s Oyster Bar chef Arthur Ringel explained how he buys pork loins from a local farm and they still are encased in the fat and skin. When roasted, not only does this keep the meat on the inside tender, but yields cracklings which he sliced and used as garnish, along with a relish of currants, pine nuts, and capers.
Todd Gray’s Equinox was another table for which I was responsible. Katie, the Catering Director had a prime location right in front of the legendary Michel Richard and next to the bar. She was serving a red pepper soup garnished with Piquillo peppers, tiny diced pear pieces, and crispy baby arugula. Each garnish ingredient brought out a different aspect of the soup and the entire dish had a rich developed balance.
Michel Richard’s table could have featured any number of restaurants in his empire, but this evening it was their newest, Michel. This posh new restaurant is in the Ritz Carton in Tysons Corner. Chef Richard was there serving a White Tuna Tartare that was so good I thought I weep.
Chef Carla Hall of Top Chef fame and now has her own restaurant, Alchemy. was practically part of the entertainment as well as one of the chefs. With her 6 foot height and what she describes as her 6’2″ wingspan you cannot miss this woman. She made tamales which according to her was a first.
Willow sent pastry Chef Kate Jansen and she had an array of confections ranging from tiny cookies to brownies to shortbreads and of all the tables, hers seemed to be the one the other chefs snuck off to the most. (For more on Willow, see a previous ToneMan post, click here.
Jose Andres’ Jaleo was well represented with a bar booth mixing special and high-proof cocktails as well as a classic citrus salad that helped reset the palate after what was a few very intense rich dishes.
Source by Wolfgang Puck offered a single bite dumpling which for me may have been the most enchanting bite of the evening. It had a warm spice flavor and an exotic quality that made me immediately put Source high on my list of places to visit.
One big highlight for me, however, was when I looked over and realized I was standing at the sink next to Top Chef Winner Kevin Sbraga! Last year Top Chef was filmed in washington, DC, and the final episode was filmed in Singapore. Each week we watched the chefs create amazing dishes in locations often only a couple miles from my house. Ultimately Kevin was crowned Top Chef and now here he was standing next to me!
He served a Roasted Beet Gazpacho. He brought me over a sample and told me I had to try it. One spoonful was like a culinary journey! It was one of the most unbelievable things I have ever eaten and I asked him, “What’s going on in here?” to which he said it was just a classic gazpacho recipe with the addition of roasted beats…and his voice trailed off like that was all…and then he added, “and I whipped goat cheese with heavy cream and blended that in, and I added a little caviar…and on and on.
My job was “Chef Support” so all night I walked from table to table asking the chefs if they needed anything, if they were all set, etc. Each was so nice and gracious and so happy to discuss how they had made their dish and what I should order in their restaurant.
The patrons were a beautiful crowd of Washington celebrities themselves. Members of the Washington Nationals were schmoozing with members of Congress. Ralph Nader was chatting it up with the chefs, and the setting of the Carnegie Institution made it an event that could have been filmed for a scene in a movie.
One great aspect of the event was hanging out with chefs. This was not only the star chefs whose food was featured, but many of the volunteers back in the kitchen were chefs too. I worked with this great pair of sisters, Joanne and Julie who run Scion in Dupont Circle.
Theirs is a great story! Their parents have run a popular Chinese restaurant on the Southwest waterfront for nearly 30 years (Jenny’s Asian Fusion). Joanne and Julie went off to earn graduate degrees and take jobs among the corporate ranks. One is a lawyer and the other an accountant; but, restaurant was in their blood and a short time ago the two sisters opened their own restaurant, Scion near Dupont Circle.
I owe a huge thanks to my friend Susan Reilly, Events Coordinator for the DC Chapter of Common Threads. Thanks Susan, what a great volunteer gig!