Disaster relief point man José Andrés didn’t give the shirt of his back at this year’s Capital Food Fight, but he came close. During part of the festivities, political analyst and guest judge Ana Navarro noticed that the humanitarian who’s been racing around storm-ravaged Puerto Rico feeding desperate locals had kicked off his shoes and was walking around barefoot. So she offered up the historic kicks for charity (see below).
The annual fundraiser for DC Central Kitchen also featured plenty of action on the food front. Chef Miranda Rosenfelt of Sally’s Middle Name bested colleagues in a multi-stage cooking competition. The event at the Ronald Reagan Building is a staple of the culinary event scene, bringing together more than 1,200 guests and 80 restaurants to feed and entertain attendees via a Chopped-style battle between D.C. star chefs.
This year’s Capital Food Fight raised $638,000 for DC Central Kitchen and drew celeb host and judges, per usual. Washington Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman, TV personality Adam Richman, political analyst Ana Navarro, and New York-based Chef Joseph “JJ” Johnson all served as judges, while D.C. restaurateur Spike Mendelsohn and Food Network personalities Tregaye Fraser and Fanny Slater acted as co-hosts along with event founder and chair Andrés.
Read on for highlights from the party, including a dubious Steve Bannon sighting.
The most festive dish: That would be the Bird’s very seasonally-appropriate turducken meatballs with all the meats and a sherry-mushroom-smoked paprika sauce topped with quinoa.
The Wharf update: While mixing up drinks, Eat Good Food Group’s Todd Thrasher mentioned that his forthcoming Potomac Distilling Co. rum distillery and tiki bar at The Wharf will open in February or March. Construction issues? “Potomac River issues,” he said, noting that the spot is so close to the river that the team ran into water tables they weren’t expecting.
Food trucks as decor: The decor combined two key food scene trends. Smithfield Foods rolled out faux food trucks into its showcase room to serve apps. Meanwhile, guests with silver or gold wristbands got into a speakeasy featuring mixologists from Cotton & Reed Distillery, Founding Spirits, and The Conche, as well as food from 1789, Centrolina, Del Campo, Ris, and Rappahannock River Oysters.
Trump talk: Seeing as Andrés and Capital Food Fight judge Navarro are two of the current administration’s biggest critics, discussions about President Donald Trump were unavoidable.
“José Andrés already makes America great,” Navarro said at one point. Elsewhere in the crowd, someone was incredulous about spotting a potential VIP.
"Steve Bannon is fucking here. He’s right over there," one attendee said while holding up a grainy photo of a guy with gray hair and possibly a mustache. It kinda looked like Steve Bannon, but Eater was never able to get a final confirmation that Trump’s former strategist was actually in the house.
Round 1: Chefs Douglas Alexander of Art and Soul and Bobby Pradachith of Thip Khao both had to make broccolini exciting. Alexander opted for a mango slaw with tropical flavors while Pradachith went more umami, layering on ingredients like fermented tofu, pickled ginger, and fish sauce. It worked, and Pradachith went on to the finals.
Dueling Schnitzels: In the second battle, chefs Miranda Rosenfelt and Hamilton Johnson of Honeysuckle both decided to make schnitzel with the secret ingredient of Smithfield Prime pork boneless loin.
Rosenfelt graciously let Johnson use her equipment after his team's burners went down. Maybe it was karma then when Rosenfelt scored the win with her hometown-inspired Old Bay pork schnitzel with green goddess dressing over Johnson's schnitzel with pancetta, capers, an apricot glaze and a sunny-side-up egg.
A celeb battle: Washington Nationals star Ryan Zimmerman loves dining out in D.C. and he says he’s handy in the kitchen, so the Capital Food Fight crew made him prove it. Zimmerman teamed up with Mendelsohn for a special celeb battle vs co-hosts with a secret ingredient of pumpkin spice butter.
Zimmerman’s buttery pumpkin spice pasta got a nod from the judges, but Fraser and Slater prevailed with a fried scallop dish (the burner wasn't working and they had to quickly change gears).
This is the José Andrés show: Andrés is an unstoppable force. After a tribute to his work in not just D.C. but in Puerto Rico where he fed two million people, Andrés roamed the stage gently heckling the judges and making dad jokes.
He pretended the rubber bands that held the broccolini were bracelets and pantomimed flicking them into the crowd, then teased Zimmerman that he ate too slowly. "You need to eat quicker, we need to finish tonight," he said. After Navarro said a dish was too salty, he joked that she was being harsh. "This isn’t CNN," Andrés said.
An unusual auction item: At one point, everyone realized Andrés had taken his shoes off and was walking around the stage barefoot. So, in addition to luxe auction items like a “Year of Brunching” at 13 D.C. restaurants, Navarro tried to auction off Andrés’s grimy shoes. They were worn out for a good cause though. “You know how many miles and towns these shoes have been to in Puerto Rico?" Navarro said, and she ended up buying them herself, with an initial bid of $500.
The victor: In the finals, Rosenfelt and Pradachith went head to head over a secret ingredient of Salty Hog oysters from Whole Foods Market. Rosenfelt emerged the victor thanks to her seafood stuffing with roast oysters dish, with the Capital Food Fight red boxing gloves to prove it.