Twelve hundred guests gathered in the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center for last night’s Capital Food Fight, where 75 D.C. restaurants dished out samples and four chefs went head-to-head in heated cooking battles. While the competition was fierce, it was 1789’s Samuel Kim who victoriously left the stage (to the tune of the "Rocky" theme song, his neck draped with Everlast boxing gloves). From a jovial José Andrés throwing green beans into the crowd, to Nationals mascot Screech hopping fences for photo-ops, Eater was there to watch it all.
1) Hosting duties: Andrés and Good Stuff Eatery’s Spike Mendelsohn co-hosted the event and brought some serious energy to the stage. Mendelsohn ran on stage to Drake’s "One Dance," while Andrés went barefoot and tossed green beans — the secret ingredient of the first battle — into the crowd.
2) History in the making: According to DC Central Kitchen CEO Mike Curtin, it was "the first time in the world a two-star Michelin chef hosted a food fight," courtesy of D.C.’s first Michelin guide, which came out last month.
3) The Dinero: A whopping $694,000 was raised for DC Central Kitchen. This included some serious cash dropped by attendees to support the cause, including $12,000 on a package offering dinner for six at 12 different restaurants.
4) The Judges: As former competitor and judge Spike Mendelsohn took the stage, TV personality and cake extraordinaire Duff Goldman of Baltimore, Zac Brown Band Executive Chef Rusty Hamlin, and the West Coast half of the Voltaggio brothers, Michael (soon to open a steakhouse with his brother at National Harbor), judged the dishes.
5) How it Went Down: Round one was between George Rodriguez of Tico and Samuel Kim of 1789. While the judges praised the freshness of Rodriguez’ blanched green beans (the secret ingredient), it was Kim’s tempura-style beans that delivered the knockout.
Battle number two was waged between Theary So, chef de cuisine at Hank’s Oyster Bar in Dupont, and Andrew Markert from Beuchert’s Saloon. So creatively used the secret ingredient, Tyson’s Italian rope sausage, by removing its casing, wrapping it around an avocado half and topping it with an egg. This ultimately bested Markert’s shrimp and sausage meatballs.
The final round was fierce between Kim and So, with the "secret ingredient" — Vadouvan curry popcorn — adding an extra challenge. So served a curried popcorn polenta with butter-seared scallops, but it was Kim’s curried popcorn grits with pan-seared shrimp that won the judges over.
6) "Put Some Popcorn in Your Life:" A popular Andrés quote that circulated on Twitter after he held up a large bowl of said curry popcorn for the crowd.
7) Mayors and Mascots: Mayor Muriel Bowser made an appearance, while Washington’s sports mascots mingled with the crowd. Eater witnessed Screech, the beloved Nats Eagle, hurdle a fence to reach throngs of fans pleading for selfies. His human counterpart from the Washington Nationals claimed Screech was the calmest of the team’s mascots — the racing presidents apparently have even more energy.
8) Samuel Kim Really Wanted to Food Fight: Samuel Kim wasn’t just selected by Capital Food Fight staffers to participate: he actively campaigned for the gig by asking colleagues and former DCCK board members, "How to I get up there?"
9) Tim Ma’s Tables Were a Popular Stop: Between Water & Wall’s duck tongue bahn mi and Kyirisan’s dishes, crowds heavily gravitated toward chef Ma’s booths and anxiously awaited for more samples to be plated.
10) Sweet Tees and...Chicken Suits?: Todd Thrasher, a mixologist and partner behind Old Town’s Bar PX, rocked a tee reading, "Thrasher: The New Religion Worldwide," to complement bottles of his artisanal cocktail mixes, Thrasher’s Tonics & Elixirs. Meanwhile, the ramen masters at Bantam King’s booth rocked what could best be described as chicken onesies.
11) Top Chefs Abound: Top Chef alums Marjorie Meek-Bradley, the Brothers Voltaggio, (Michael and Bryan) and Mike Isabella helmed booths at the exclusive Chairman’s Overlook and even went head-to-head in a five-minute mushroom burger challenge. Also working the event, George Pagonis of Kapnos and Jen Carroll of Requin.
12) DCCK Students Brought the Outdoors Inside: Student cooks prepared "unique comfort food" in a dining area set to resemble a local park. Atop green "grass" carpet and beneath strings of patio lights, the students excitedly dished out Peruvian-inspired hot dogs, juicy kabobs and pork gyros.
13) Post-Election Unity Was Encouraged: By the end of the night, guests who frequented the various bars or sampled the many artisanal cocktails in the table sponsors’ speakeasy were feeling pretty good. They raised their glasses to an impassioned closing speech by Andrés, who in the wake of a contentious election urged attendees to respect one another.
Curtin agreed saying, "After all of the hateful rhetoric," it’s important to remember what brought Capital Food Fight attendees to the event. "The kitchen brings us together and shows how the incredible power of food can make change in our community and feed the soul of our city," he said.