Top Toque?: Embassy Chefs Compete for Top Honors

Written by Anita
April 5, 2009

Photo Credits: Abby Greenawalt, courtesy of Cultural Tourism DC

Sure, embassy chefs face their share of challenges (say, the visiting head of state is vegan?), but the Embassy Chef Challenge hosted by Cultural Tourism DC (and featured on gregslistdc!) truly put them to the test. At the first of what hopes to be an annual event, embassy chefs from Afghanistan, Haiti, Hungary, Morocco, and Trinidad and Tobago prepared specialties to showcase their cultural cuisine. Chefs prepared appetizers, heavy hors d’oeuvres, or desserts for attendees and a panel of celebrity judges that included (pictured clockwise from top left) chef Art Smith (Art and Soul), chef Kaz Okochi (Kaz Sushi Bistro), author Gail Scott, chef Rock Harper (Ben’s Next Door and winner of Hell’s Kitchen), chair Joe Yonan (food editor for the Washington Post), chef Ris Lacoste (ris—coming soon), chef Michel Richard (Citronelle and Central), and chef Carla Hall (Alchemy Caterers and Top Chef finalist). Embassy chefs vied for two honors: the judges’ choice and people’s choice awards. Tasting highlights included the Mayi Kole ak pwa wouj (corn and red beans)—a thick, dense corncake topped with a sweet bean paste—from chef Lola Poisson Joseph (Haiti) and the Maracas Bay Bake n Shark—tender shark meat inside crispy unleavened fried bread, served with a spicy apple chutney—from chef Godfrey De La Rosa (Trinidad and Tobago). Our favorite was the Mantou (ground beef dumpling) with creamy yogurt and mint from chef Nasim Ahmadi (Afghanistan). Moroccan chef Nazha Kasraoui (pictured) took top honors, winning both the judges’ and people’s choice awards for her chicken pastilla—a sweet and savory spiced chicken pie. The evening concluded with a silent auction that offered a variety of culinary gems (such as cooking classes for eight and brunch for four at the Four Seasons). Missed this international flight? Then mark your calendar now for Cultural Tourism DC’s next big event: Passport DC. Kicking off on April 30th, this ten-day event (running through May 9) gives guests access to the culture, crafts, and cuisine of over 25 embassies at open-house events. Event highlights include the Embassy Open House on May 2 and the International Children’s Festival on May 9. This mostly free event drew more than 150,000 last year, so don’t get left out in the cold! In addition to these two great events, Cultural Tourism DC (an independent nonprofit coalition of more than 200 culture, heritage, and community organizations throughout the nation’s capital) runs a variety of programs that help Metro-area residents and visitors experience Washington’s authentic culture and heritage. These include efforts to establish neighborhood heritage trails, mark the Africian-American heritage trail, and lead walking tours. Check out its calendar of events for more information on these and a variety of other fun upcoming events.



We caught up with chef Rock Harper, winner of Hell’s Kitchen season 3 and now the chef at Ben’s Next Door. Q: What are you serving up at Ben’s Next Door? A: Straightforward comfort food. Some people like to do their twist on something—there’s no twist here—it’s just straight up. I’m cooking things I love and grew up with: fresh, simple everyday food. People are used to the culture of Ben’s Chili Bowl, so I’m sticking with that. Q: Is Gordon Ramsay as mean as he seems on the show? A: Worse! When he gets mad. He doesn’t wake up mad though. He’s a really nice guy, and a hell of a motivator. Q: So it’s not just an act for TV? A: I wish! Q: How do you like being back in DC? A: I love it—it’s my home, so it just made sense when I got the opportunity… [I like] the culture of being back around so many different types of people who are real. …I’m having a ball.
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