It's year four for Chefs for Equality, the annual fundraiser for the Human Rights Campaign's marriage equality efforts. It seems appropriate for D.C. that a political event has evolved into arguably the city's hottest restaurant industry gathering. Celebrity chefs, sold-out crowds, a festive vibe and dazzling event food all add up to one of the most fun nights of the year for both the hospitality industry and loyalists to the cause. Here are some Hangover Observations from this year's event, held as usual at the Ritz-Carlton in the West End.
1) Mega-chefs: Mike Isabella. Bryan Voltaggio. Patrick O'Connell. Fabio Trabocchi. Erik-Bruner-Yang. All were cooking at Chefs for Equality, and many of them were preparing dishes like ale-brined squab and sea urchin soup for the private tables, which were auctioned off for $10,000 a pop. The center table was stunningly decorated by a dramatic hanging trellis. Special out-of-town guests like Ed Lee, Andrew Little and Paul Qui came in to lend a hand.
2) Food to remember: Sure, some big name chefs were working hard at the private tables, but more local chefs, from Ruth Gresser to Harper McClure, could also be found cooking at the public stations, featuring food from such restaurants as Centrolina, Osteria Morini, DBGB and dozens more. Tartare was everywhere (including a stellar elk version from Bourbon Steak); so were pates and rilletes. Some other attendee favorites: a pork dumpling from Crane & Turtle, caviar-spiked cauliflower panna cotta from Brabo, and a sherry-spiked mushroom soup from Water & Wall's Tim Ma.
Those indulging in the plethora of boozy and well-crafted cocktails (2 Birds 1 Stone's drink with Aqua Riva tequila, Don Ciccio & Figli Hibiscus liqueur, ginger, passion fruit and lemon got high marks) would have been smart to fill-up on the giant meatballs being served up by Carmine's restaurant during the event.
3) Wardrobe report: Washington tends to leave its traditionally staid attire at home for this event, which brought out the sequins, jumpsuits, bright colors, low necklines and epic heels from attendees' closets. Best hat award, though, goes to drag queen Felicia Beefeater, who worked farmers market vegetables into her headpiece, Carmen Miranda-style.
4) Dropping dough: Big-ticket auction items were a plenty, and sold for major dollars, including $23,000 for a wedding package at The Inn at Little Washington, $12,000 for a Fiola rooftop party for 50 and $11,000 for a cooking class with José Andrés.
5) Get on your feet: Music from artists as diverse as Paula Abdul (Eater hears that's Compass Rose's Rose Previte's jam), the Jackson Five and OMI pumped up attendees — and even inspired some to dance, like B Too and Belga Cafe's own chef Bart Vandaele.
6) Blind item! Fun facts from random cocktail party chatter: Can you guess which fast-casual pizza executive and pork bun-slinging chef are in a fantasy football league together?
7) "The Struggle Continues:" Organizer David Hagedorn told the crowd that countless people asked him why the event is continuing after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality earlier this year. But the ruling hasn't resulted in a sudden overturn of all public opinion, or even legal challenges. "The struggle continues," he said. "The backlash is there. We need to remain diligent."
8) Star Watch: The event brought in several attendees from the activist circuit, including Kris Perry and Sandy Stier (one of the plaintiff couples in the Proposition 8 case) as well as Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff whose case reached the Supreme Court. Other out-of-town chefs who made it in for the event: Slade Rushing, Jason Stanhope, John Currence, Gillian Clark, Nathalie Dupree and Bill Smith.
9) Taking (another) stand: Guests were encouraged and incentivized to park at a garage near the event, due to an ongoing labor dispute at the hotel's own garage.
10) An unlikely sponsor: Remember Barilla's whole anti-gay-marriage scandal of 2013? The company (which made a public turnaround on the issue last year) was clearly up for making amends last night, sponsoring several items in the event's epic goodie bag and even hosting its own food table.
11) About those goodie bags: The offerings, as they are every year, were truly impressive. From cupcakes, M&M bars and granola bars, to wine and food gift cards, to olive oil and Korean chili sauce, guests did not go home empty-handed.