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Chefs Ball: Killer Dumplings, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Bow Ties, Jeffrey Jew Chatter, a Maketto Update and More

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Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Justin Mikita and Art Smith.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Justin Mikita and Art Smith.

[Photos: Tim Ebner/Eater.com]

In Washington, politics may divide but food unites — or at least that's what Chef Art Smith has to say about the city's dining scene. He brought together some of the city's most notable chefs on Saturday night to celebrate the Chefs Ball, an inaugural ball centered around food and hosted at his restaurant, Art and Soul at the Liaison Hotel.

The party had all the appeal of your typical inaugural ball (with the exception of John Legend, that is) -- a DJ playing Fergie, a well-stocked bar, some celebrity sightings, and a decent opportunity for a hangover. Missing from this ball: Beltway hobnobbing and awkward dance moves of Washington politicos.

1) Chef Smith on why he decided to host the Chefs Ball: "The real difference between this ball and others: usually, there's just bad food or no food at all. Here, we want the food to be the focus and inspiration," he said. The proceeds of the night benefited a number of charities and nonprofits, including food and nutrition organizations, like D.C. Central Kitchen, the James Beard Foundation and Common Threads, co-founded by Chef Smith and his husband Jesus Salgueiro.

2) Who was cooking: Seven DC chefs played host and served up their favorite dishes: Wes Morton and Art Smith from Art and Soul, Toki Underground's Erik Bruner-Yang, Todd Gray with Equinox, The Source's Scott Drewno, Rock Harper from "Hell's Kitchen" fame and D.C. Central Kitchen and Mike Isabella from Bandolero and Graffiato.

3) Some of the crowd's favorite bites: chicken and waffle skewers served by Art and Soul, braised brisket from Equinox, Toki's steamed coconut fish curry wrapped in a banana leaf; and The Source's Chinese duck dumplings served in a duck broth.

4) It's good to be a chef: according to Mike Isabella, The Source is required to have a selection of off-the-menu dumplings ready for him to order when he dines there.

5) Kapnos preview: Isabella was there testing out mini-lamb gyros, a menu item he plans to offer at his new Greek restaurant.

6) What do chefs drink at a ball? For Todd Gray: Maker's and ginger; Bart Vandaele: Champagne. Other popular choices included "The Stickin' Around," a cocktail with orange bitters, orange juice, club soda and Bulleit Bourbon; and "The Stayin' Put" with champagne, simple syrup and Green Hat Gin.

7) Celebrity watch: Chefs and guests flocked to and snapped photos with "Modern Family" star Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Ferguson sported a snazzy bow tie from the product line launched with his fiance Justin Mikita, also in attendance (proceeds benefit the Human Rights Campaign). Also in attendance, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, who has worked with Ferguson on marriage equality, and Gayle King, co-anchor of the CBS This Morning show (who shares Smith's Oprah connection).

8) "Top Chef" contestant and Belga Cafe Chef Bart Vandaele arrived with a small entourage of attractive women ("beauties", as he said). He spent a good amount of time on the dance floor, too.

9) The music: James Taylor's son, Ben Taylor, provided an acoustic set of music for VIPs.

10) What they wore: Art and Soul staff sported bow ties from Ferguson and Mikita's Tie the Knot collection. The event, which was described as "a celebration – anything goes," had attendees who wore everything from sequin gowns and black tuxedos to chef jackets and jeans.

11) Smith, who holds close ties to the Obamas from their Chicago days and made President Obama his birthday cake last year, says he looks forward to cooking more food for the Obamas. "It's a family that cares about food. They support us, the chefs, and they demand good food." Todd and Ellen Gray have worked with Michelle Obama in their "Chefs Move to Schools" program, and plan to continue that partnership. "In the industry they are a great family. We consider them friends, and we like to take care of them when they eat with us," Todd Gray said.

12) Next stop for the Obamas: ramen? While Erik Bruner-Yang says his restaurant is probably a logistical nightmare for the Obamas, he would gladly welcome the First Family for a steaming bowl of Ramen noodles sometime soon.

12) After-party hot-spots: The party started late, at 11 p.m., and ended in the wee-hours of Sunday. Bruner-Yang said he was heading to bed after the ball. Others opted for cocktails at The Passenger or bars on H Street.

13) Back room chatter: Expect Jeffrey Jew back in DC next month. The "Top Chef" alumnus and DC native, who attended the ball, says he will be making a cooking appearance in the city, but remained closed lipped about details.

14) Bruner-Yang reports that plans to open his Asian market, Maketto, through a partnership with Popularise is on-track for a mid-to-late summer opening on H Street. When the store opens, there will be hard to find food products for sale, some prepared foods and a coffee bar.

15) The swag bag: At the end of the night, VIP guests received a goodie bag filled with special treats, including a Chef Smith cookbook, mini-cupcakes, a travel mug and a southern spice rub.
—Tim Ebner

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Art and Soul

415 New Jersey Avenue Northwest, , DC 20001 (202) 393-7777 Visit Website

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