Obscenities, big victories, extreme spiciness and proclamations over who is the best chef in the world dominated last night's Capital Food Fight.
It was the eleventh year for the competition, held at the Reagan International Trade Center, and the 25th year that featured charity D.C. Central Kitchen has been in existence.
The obscenities largely came from co-master of ceremonies and CNN's "Parts Unknown" host Anthony Bourdain, who didn't hold back on his trademark brash style.
The victors were Marjorie Meek-Bradley, the chef of Ripple and Roofer's Union, who won the Iron Chef-style cooking faceoff on the main stage and Melissa Payne, owner of Couture Cake Creations in Chesterfield, Va., who took the cake battle.
Beyond the head-to-head cooking battles, 75 Washington restaurants prepared dishes for the packed crowd of foodies and restaurant industry professionals. The judges for the night represented a spectrum of food stars: Momofuku MilkBar cofounder Christina Tosi, Bayou Bakery chef David Guas and "Chopped" host Ted Allen, along with Daniel Boulud. Back on co-hosting duty was Carla Hall.
Read on for Hangover Observations from the action-packed culinary night.
1. Amazon hosts: Hall and Bourdain would never be mistaken for shorties. The co-hosts towered over almost everyone else on stage dressed in black save for Hall's vibrant red glasses. In Hall's words, both did everyone a favor by wearing flats. "We're two tall drinks of water," she explained. "One is sweet tea and the other is sour lemonade." Any guesses on which is which?
2. Quick trip: Hall, the crowd learned, had zipped down to the nation's capital on a three-hour train ride just before the start of Food Fight, would be in town for a mere four hours and then back on a train to film "The Chew" in New York the next day. Where did Bourdain come from? He thinks South Korea. With so much traveling under his belt lately, it's hard to keep track and to find new destinations to hit, he said.
3. Multi-talented: Allen, as a former member of the "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" clan, an Esquire writer and frequent presence on both the Food Network and "Top Chef" can do most anything. Bourdain even introduced him as a possible Kennedy conspirator. But what can't Allen do? Bust a move. "I just danced in a Food Network promo — big mistake," he told the audience. "The only dancing I do is at home to 90s music in Ray Bans.
4. Movember fashion: It's November. That much was clear. Beards were an even more integral part of men's faces than a normal chef-driven event. Even Andrés sported some facial stubble as did usually clean-cut ABC7 reporter Scott Thurman, who co-hosted the High Stakes Cakes competition with Duff Goldman for the second year.
5. A beef with bakers: Fans of Bourdain are well aware of his hatred for vegetarians and vegans. Well, he also let his frustrations with bakers rip throughout the rounds. His deep resentment comes from the fact that they can do something he can't. That and the idea that "anything that rises" causes him fear. Uh, phallic much, Bourdain? The only dessert maven who seemed to be safe from his wrath was Tosi, who came on stage throwing fake punches in red boxing gloves and was introduced, simply, as the crack pie creator in honor of her famed Milkbar dessert.
6. Oh and the food! Pork belly, lamb belly and short ribs were everywhere around the booths — in the form of baklava, sliders and over polenta, to name a few vehicles for the proteins. At the Art & Soul table there was "Angry Chef" hot sauce aplenty, which is the creation of one of the eatery's chefs. One of last year's unusual on-stage secret ingredients, snakehead, made an appearance at the Maketto table in raw form. This year's secret ingredients were beef cheeks, Buddhist Hand and chow chow.
7. A new cooking technique? With only 10 minutes to prepare beef cheeks in the first battle of the night, competitors Tim Ma from Water & Wall, and Javier Romero, from Taberna del Alabardero, had quite the task. To endure, Ma's camp tried a sophisticated method also known as "pounding the shit out of it." The technique was one Hall continually suggested cooks in the audience give a try at home as well.
8. Big, bold and lusty. The most vivid and sensuous description of the night came from none other than Allen to talk about a beef cheek creation. This came shortly after Hall's and Bourdain's confession that the time crunch of the cook-off stressed them out, as does the ticking clock of "Chopped." "I'd be shitting down my leg right now," Bourdain said of the battling chefs, "but you'll be fine."
9. Was it D.C.'s birthday? If the cakes in the High Stakes battle had any singular quality in common it was that they were D.C.-tastic. Caitlin Dysart's layered dessert even featured a cutout of a Washington map and a mockup of mumbo sauce (though the cake was, thankfully, not made with mumbo sauce). Though Goldman had no clue what the signature D.C. condiment was, a mumbo sauce reference elicited huge cheers from eventgoers. The winning cake by Payne was an ode to D.C. Central Kitchen complete with a layer in the shape of recipe cards, another portraying a truck that the nonprofit uses to deliver food and another layer showing a wooden basket of fruits and vegetables.
10. An almost enemy: Del Campo sous chef Faiz Ally, standing just to the left of the stage before the final bout, mulled over who he wanted to win, Ma or Meek-Bradley. Ma is a chef he wanted to hate when Water & Wall pushed his boss, Victor Albisu's Taco Bamba "off the heatmap," he said, referring to Eater's continually changing rankings of 38 must-try restaurants in a city. "But then I met him (Ma) and he's so nice."
11. How hot do you want it? That became the on-stage question about chow chow, the pickled relish that became the secret ingredient in the final culinary battle. Guas and Hall debated from which Southern state it came. "I used to eat it for breakfast," Guas said. Meanwhile, all Bourdain cared about was that the chefs made their dishes extra spicy —enough to cause him pain. With food and not with other things, he said, "I want it to hurt bad. I want my pubes to burst into flashes," Bourdain said. Hall, on the other hand, is a self-described spice wuss.
12. Tardy at the party: All of those battles, all of that judging and all of that eating meant the festivities didn't exactly end on time. Though event volunteers warned guests from the get-go that coat check was promptly closing at the end time of 9, the end came 45 minutes after that. But no worries, "Bruce held off his set so we could finish," D.C. Central Kitchen CEO Michael F. Curtin, Jr. said of The Concert for Valor nearby.