More than 1,000 people attended the 13th edition of the event, which featured cuisine from 75 area restaurants. Guests also got to witness as industry giants waged a culinary battle.
Given the election results, which were still fresh at the time, a political undertone threaded many of the events, with Chef Andrés showing up on stage in an “I am an immigrant” T-shirt.
Four local chefs, Samuel Kim of 1789, Andrew Markert of Beuchert’s Saloon, George Rodrigues of Tico, and Theary So of Hank’s Oyster Bar, Dupont, competed in the highlight event. The two-round competition started with mushrooms and green beans, respectively, as the secret ingredient in a head-to-head matchup, and then finished with sausage. Chef Kim took the crown.
Tyson Foods was a presenting sponsor for the event, and Foodservice Team Chef Matt Boring helped out in various roles, including extensive work with DC Central Kitchen. In the past, Chef Boring has tossed out some challenging ingredients in the culinary battle. “I did sweet breads one year. And they only had 15 minutes,” he says, laughing. “So it was kind of jerk move on my part.”
Chef Boring compared the event to a concert. “Whenever you are there, you really feel panicked for the chef thanks to the timed manner of the event,” he says. “I think it touches all of those emotional buttons that people love.”
Like Chef Mendelsohn, he walked away with a deeper focus.
“I think what I’ve learned in my years in the foodservice industry is that a lot of people in the industry are really jaded,” he says. “These students who come to the DC Central Kitchen, though, are really willing to learn, willing to work. They’re not affected by that. They don’t see problems the same way I have seen them or other chefs have seen them. So they’re willing to learn and really enjoy it, where to them it’s not really work, like it would be to some other people.”
The diversity of DC Central Kitchen has always impressed Chef Boring. He’s worked with students ranging from 18 to 61 years old, with sharply contrasting backgrounds. “Some of them are getting second chances and some of them are just trying to get back on their feet and learn something new,” he says. “… To really get people to help others make a change to better the world you have to affect a mission of theirs as well. So to really help people with food, what better way than to have chefs be the expert opinion on it? I think celebrity chefs and chefs who are celebrities for their area—big local chefs—they cast a wider net to capture a larger audience for the mission.”
The Capital Food Fight had plenty of those. Duff Goldman, formerly of Food Network’s “Ace of Cakes,” and renowned chefs Rusty Hamlin and Chef Michael Voltaggio were judges. At one point, all the locals who’ve appeared on “Top Chef” came on stage for an unscripted throw down, including Mike Isabella, Bryan Voltaggio, Michael Voltaggio, and Marjorie MeekBradley.
Chef Mendelsohn, who is also Chairman of the D.C. Food Policy Council, felt the event was a success on multiple fronts. In addition to the funds raised, he hopes it raised awareness to some to the food issues facing D.C. and the nation.
“I think the biggest highlight was the fact we were able to get [Washington, D.C.] Mayor Muriel Bowser to come to the event for the first time, and show her what DC Central Kitchen was about,” he says. “To see that this isn’t just a culinary school in DC that is doing job placements and job training. It’s way grander than that. It has a huge amount of support and backing and I think she was pleasantly surprised to see that at the event and see the kind of traction it gets, and to support it herself. It’s her city and a lot of these changes are happening.”