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Everyone Wants to Meet Carla Hall at Embassy Chef Event

[Photos: Kat Lucero/]

The international culinary scene in Washington just went down under last night — in a tasty and monumental way. This year's Embassy Chef Challenge went to the Embassy of New Zealand's Chef Nathan Bates, who won all of three award categories in this two-part contest, making the trifecta win the first time in the challenge's five-year history.

New Zealand also clenched another historical title: the first non-European country to win the contest. Bates created roasted lamb cutlet with zespri kiwi, herb and manuka honey relish. New Zealand competed with other countries including China, El Salvador, Jamaica, Korea, Norway, Russia, South Africa, and Trinidad and Tobago.

The gala, held inside the Ronald Reagan Building, drew a variety of guests from diplomats, Washington socialites, representatives of D.C. government and avid foodies who love the city's cosmopolitan vibe. As one 33-year resident in the area said: "I like traveling the world without leaving Washington."

1)The gala first paid tribute to Pat Skantze, the former benefit chair of the Embassy Chef Challenge. The Washington socialite, known for her collection of elegant hats and work with the diplomatic community, passed away last December. Every year, the gala will now have the Pat Skantze Lifetime Achievement Award. This year's benefit chair Shahin Mafi demanded the bustling crowd's attention to the stage during a tribute to Skantze.

2) It's getting hot in here: Mayor Vincent Gray made a special appearance, stating that D.C. is "increasingly the hottest city in America." He went on further to say that"we've got the hottest people in America. I've never seen this city as hot as it is."

3) Going once, going twice, sold! The mayor may have fired up the crowd, but Carla Hall's rapid-fire auctioneering was a hit with the crowd during the live auction. Hall, who unleashed one of her many talents last night, tells Eater that she taught herself how to chant, bid and call by listening for two weeks to "The Auctioneer" a song by country singer Leroy Van Dyke.

4) Hall's celebrity chef status was evident last night. Many of the guests may not hob nob with the diplomatic crowd or Washington's high society scene, but they were sure excited to see one of their favorite TV personalities in person. When asked what she was looking forward to at the event (other than the food), Janice Posey, who works in the deputy mayor's office said, "I just want to meet Carla Hall."

5) In honor of Skantze, fashion designer b michael created a one-of-kind wide-brimmed floppy beige hat for the auction. It sold for $1600. Hall, however, was personally eyeing b michael's luscious tapestry blazer: "Does someone want that jacket? I want that jacket. Next year!"

6) Chef Jan Van Haute of the Belgium Embassy nabbed boxed seats to a tennis tournament and a private party at the W Hotel just when another guest was ready to claim them. But the winner of the Embassy Chef Challenge in 2010 was a sport. He shared the $900 prize with the other tennis fan.

7) Chef Mukesh Ramnarine, aka "Chef Tiger", is not a regular chef for the Trinidad and Tobago Embassy. When his country needed someone to represent the culinary offerings of the Caribbean island this year, they immediately called Ramnarine. He came down from Boston to participate in the two-part competition.

8) Before the food was served, Trinidad and Tobago already drew lots of attention. Adrianna Morgan, wearing a green and gold carnivale attire, was a popular attraction at the stand. The visual arts student from Baltimore, whose parents are from the island nation, assembled the festive costume herself, using materials from her old pants and large plastic leaves.

9) Norway's Chef Simon Liestøl Idsøe was very surprised when some guests were clueless when it came to cod, a popular white fish he included in his potato and leek soup. At 22, Idsøe was the youngest chef in the competition.

10) Passing on the toque: Chef Viktor Merényi's profile has dramatically risen ever since he won last year's contest, as Eater readers learned earlier today. After the event, he tells Eater that he's happy the spotlight is going to another chef: "The pressure is off."
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