***Stay tuned for an audio recap on an upcoming episode of the Jawn Appetit podcast with my Philly friends Roy and Chanell. If you're a foodie or just like food, follow them for culinary insights from the City of Brotherly Love and Beyond.***
Well, so much for following the rules.
Having gone to the Events DC Embassy Chef Challenge last year, I knew what to expect. But as soon I was confronted with the smorgasbord of authentic food and drinks from countries like Cameroon to Sri Lanka and points on the map in between, I completely forgot about the things you're supposed to do at food festivals like practicing "moderation" and "pacing yourself."
I saw the food and all my eyes and stomach were thinking was I WANT IT ALL! NOW. Please and thank you.
I didn't even bother scoping out the all the tables first, I simply went to the nearest one (which was Tanzania) and embraced the gluttony of it all. Or should I say, culinary indulgence
Ghana was the third or fourth table I visited and immediately claimed the top spot for the best food of the night, as far as I was considered. They prepared a seemingly simple dish of jollof rice and spicy grilled lamb rack that was utterly sublime. Truly, it's one of the best things I've eaten in ages. From there I traveled to Cameroon then Morocco with pit stops in Greece, Bolivia, Sri Lanka, and Peru, among others, sampling food and enjoying glimpses into other cultures along the way.
Chefs went all out this year with multiple components to their dishes, and signature drink pairings. Well, don't mind if I do! Barbados served up a potent cocktail with rum, of course, served by a very entertaining mixologist hoping to help them secure the win. Haiti, always a crowd and judge's favorite, bucked the meat-focused trend with a delicious pumpkin soup topped with bacon and lobster. Belgium dazzled the crowd again with their sweet offering of a decadent trio of chocolate that was paired with a fruity beer. Surprisingly, they worked well together! Is this a new thing I'm just learning about?
In between bites of food I chatted with the chefs and embassy staff, and compared plates with other attendees to find out the can't miss dishes to try. Aside from the food, one of most interesting parts of the event to me was finding out what drew people to come to the Challenge. Some came because of FOMO, others to indulge their love of travel and culture through food. One woman had gotten a genetic test recently and wanted to eat the food of her ancestors. How awesome is that? If there was a prize for most compelling story, she'd have won hands down.
The cultural costumes and international performances all added to the global vibe. It really felt like you had escaped DC and journeyed to an exotic locale for the evening. This celebration of cultures that enrich our lives is part of what makes this event so much more than just a food festival. As someone that's been fortunate enough to live and travel overseas, it's one of the reasons the Challenge is one of my favorite events of the year.
One of the rules I'm glad I did follow though was getting to the Challenge early. It was easy to have a leisurely time maneuvering to each table and finding room to rest your plates in the beginning, but as it got later and more crowded, it became like an obstacle course to even get a plate and not immediately be in everyone's way. But everyone was too busy enjoying the food to even care. Food really does bring people together! It's something we all have in common that we can connect over and share.
While the night is technically a competition, it's all in good fun. I like trying to predict the winning embassies in the Judge's Choice and People's Choice, but I'm pretty much always wrong, LOL. Maybe one year I'll find out what the judges -- who are professionals in the food industry -- look for when they're tasting. I just know what makes me go hmmm in appreciation, which I did a lot of that night.
Here are the winners:
Judges’ Choice Podium
People’s Choice Podium
Chef Francis Otoo of Ghana won Best Beverage for his Ashantie Mule Cocktail but I think his dish really deserved a prize, too. He was robbed! Personally, I'm really happy and proud to see African and Caribbean countries topping the podium and hope guests came away with an appreciation that this is world-class food on the same level as others like Italian and French.
In the end, we're all winners and I left wanting more of everything: food, culture, travel and new experiences. Thanks to Events DC and all of the embassies that participated for another memorable night!
The diet starts *now,* I swear!
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