Food lovers, politicos, and glammed-out entertainers made this year’s Chefs for Equality dinner one of the hottest events in town, quite literally.
“This place is turning into a second shower situation for me,” a fellow food writer blurted out as the temperature kept rising inside Union Market’s incredibly packed Dock 5. “That fan is reserved,” a gentleman in a suit joked as someone who had been sitting at one of the elaborately decorated chef’s tables wandered toward a cooling station for a bit of relief from the steamy environs.
The muggy conditions did not, however, dampen the spirits of the chefs, restaurateurs, bartenders, and local diners who signed on to participate in the Human Rights Campaign’s annual fundraiser. Local chef turned restaurant critic David Hagedorn has spearheaded the star-studded LGBTQ affair for the past six years. This year’s program included a variety of specialty drinks, a new “Speed Diner” option that provided an opportunity to sample a collaborative five-course tasting menu in 15 minutes, an eye-catching display of towering cakes, live auctions, chef-led tasting stations, VIP tables, pop-up wine bars, and all the cupcakes in the world.
Here are the key takeaways from the evening.
This Town LOVES Food: Among the many auction items that brought in big bucks for HRC were a gourmet picnic basket (think: caviar, Dom Perignon, and Swiss chocolates) that went for $3,500, and two packages ($13,000 each) featuring dining tours of restaurateur José Andrés’s Penn Quarter properties plus a trip to fantasy drinking den Barmini.
The Gang’s All Here: Members of the local hospitality community came out in full force and appeared to be having a ball. Eater saw several chefs huddled together, including: Beuchert’s Saloon co-founder Andrew Markert cracking jokes with restaurateur Victor Albisu; Hank’s Oyster Bar founder Jamie Leeds posing for pics with Pizzeria Paradiso founder Ruth Gresser; Chiko co-founders Scott Drewno and Danny Lee working the “Speed Diner” section with chef turned restaurateur Haidar Karoum and Salt Line co-founder Kyle Bailey; and Bombay Bistro co-founders Surfy Rahman and K.N. Vinod enjoying cocktails in the VIP tent.
Pouring It On: One companion declared a yuzu-spiked vodka drink “too sweet.” A fancy pina colada featuring cold punch married to warm coconut milk was intriguing. The biggest hit: the flaming whiskey drink cocktail maven Chantal Tseng concocted using Rock Creek Bourbon, the latest locally produced spirit from One Eight Distilling.
Ya Gotta Try This: Tapas. Poke. Steak. There was a ton of everything to nibble on. The most overwhelming dish: hoisin barbecue ribs with crumbled rice crackers from BLT Steak were way too heavy for this occasion. One companion wanted to make off with all the foie gras macarons from Le Diplomate that she could carry. This hired mouth was most struck by the spicy-sweet steak tartare served by Chiko, and the savory chicken hearts presented by the mother-son team of chefs Seng Luangrath and Bobby Pradachith.
Work. Work. Work.: Patrons kept everyone at the tasting stations busy throughout the night. “I keep getting food and I can’t eat it all,” a server at the Denizens Brewing stand complained as her stash of goodies got colder and colder.
Stand Together: Attendees were invited to share their thoughts about why they support equality for the LGBTQ community on a huge poster board with plenty of slots for commentary. Up on stage, D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser rallied the crowd with a rousing speech. “We’re gonna speak up for the city and the values that we hold so dear … and the fact that we’re going to Paris to win the Gay Games!” she told everyone on hand for the event.
Stay Tuned: Rasa co-founders Rahul Vinod and Sahil Rahman tell Eater that construction is about halfway done at the new restaurant they hope to open next month in Navy Yard. Veteran restaurateur and proud papa Surfy Rahman was cautiously optimistic. “We’ve been in this thing too long to take anything for granted,” he says about the pending venture.