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Chefs for Equality Turns the National Cathedral Into a ‘Deliciously Defiant’ Nightclub

The culinary feast to support the Human Rights Campaign went down on Tuesday, October 9

A look inside the sky-high venue of this year’s Chefs for Equality event.
Evan Caplan/official photo

It’s been seven years since D.C. first launched Chefs for Equality, the annual fundraiser for the Human Rights Campaign’s important fight for LGBTQ equality.

The event has skyrocketed in size over the years, becoming a must-attend evening for D.C.’s hospitality industry. Along with silent and live auction items, a sea of attendees got to indulge in a smorgasbord of bites and cocktails from the city’s top chefs and mixologists.

Here are some Hangover Observations from this year’s big night, held for the first time at the Washington National Cathedral, with a timely slogan: “Deliciously Defiant.”

1) The money, honey: All of the eating, boozing, auctioning and partying at Chefs for Equality raked in more than $300,000 to support the fight for full LGBTQ equality.

2) Hey, big spenders: Top live auction items included an epic stay in an eight-bedroom home in Umbria, Italy, donated by Suzy and Bill Menard, that sold for $12,000. Dinner for two at chef Patrick O’Connell’s Inn at Little Washington, newly crowned as D.C.’s first three-star Michelin restaurant, went for $10,000 (and includes an overnight stay at the Claiborne House).

3) “Girl on Girl” action: Keep your eyes peeled at Petworth’s Himitsu for “Girl On Girl” — a cocktail owner Carlie Steiner debuted under the tent at the lavish pre-reception that got guests liquored up before the main event under the arches inside. The inspiration behind the drink, which includes Aperol, lime, Rujero Singini brandy, dried pineapple and cinnamon was pretty simple: “I wanted to do something that was refreshing because I knew I was going to be outside and it’s hot as hell,” Steiner said. “And then obviously, I’m really gay so I wanted to name it something really gay.” And even a limp couldn’t keep her from attending the event this year: On Monday morning, Steiner fell off her bike, landed in a ditch and injured her left knee after a woman cut her off in the street, forcing Steiner to bring a couple of props. “I can still dance on one foot and two crutches,” Steiner says.

Carlie Steiner and her “Girl on Girl” cocktail. She made enough for 250 guests.
Lenore Adkins/Eater DC

4) Hello Felicia: Steiner also had help serving her drinks from Felicia Beefeater (far left, below), who donned an ankle-length silver sparkly dress, heavy makeup and sky-high heels. Felicia, better known around D.C. as A.J. Dronkers of Edible DC, was one of three drag queens Eater DC spotted posing with guests for selfies and lighting up the venue with their infectious energy. When Eater DC asked if the heels were six inches, Felicia responded: “Girl, there’s no other way to stand.” Apparently “sexy nuns” drag outfits were off limits to wear.

Belles of the ball
Nick Morrow

5) No FOMO: Breaking bread with celebrity chefs was only the beginning for some guests. We hear that the FOMO was so real at the personal chef tables that several eaters asked friends to fetch them dishes from the main hall. Andre Spearman, who dined at the centerpiece table for 16, told Eater DC that his friend, Elise Lefkowitz, just had to have the macaroons from Le Diplomate, so he ventured into the crowd and grabbed them for her.

6) Fired up: Why light candles on the altar when you can burn cheese with a blowtorch? For his third Chefs for Equality dinner, Westend Bistro chef de cuisine Alvin Dela Cruz broke out with the pyrotechnics for his braised beef short-ribs in gouderes and raclette cheese. He wouldn’t allow you to eat them until after he torched the cheese.

Alvin Dela Cruz, chef de cuisine at Westend Bistro, scorches the cheese with his blowtorch.
Lenore Adkins

7) Time on their side: We hit up the final slot for the speed diner and found people weren’t too pressed to scarf down five dishes from 10 chefs in 15 minutes. Self-described foodie Janet Williams didn’t bother timing herself, which allowed her to savor the cuisine, which was inspired by Marco Polo’s adventures. Her favorite? The slow-cooked Chilean seabass from chef Kyoo Eom of Dirty Habit and Cathal Armstrong of Kaliwa. It was served with Thai green papaya salad and toasted peanuts. “It was perfectly balanced,” Williams said.

8) Hey Mr. D.J.: In keeping with the vaunted venue’s nightclub feel, the retro music struck a decidedly holy note as the night went on. One lively set included “Heaven Is A Place on Earth” by Belinda Carlisle, “Just Like Heaven” from The Cure, “Faith” by George Michael and “Like A Prayer” from Madonna. “Just thought that I would carry the theme of being in a church but also celebrating HRC and their fight for equality,” D.J. Ted Keyes told Eater DC. “So just tried to create a common thread through all of those things and make it happy and lively and melodic and spiritual, but happy.”

Time-intensive cakes lined the foyer at Chefs for Equality.
Tierney Plumb/Eater DC

9) Newer version of you: If you’re looking to unlock your full potential as a human and become your best self, maybe it’s time to hire a life coach. The silent auction offered a single phone session with a certified professional life coach, who promises to take you from surviving to thriving. The session was valued at $175 and the bidding started at $70.

10) D.C. values in full effect: Some of the loudest cheers of the night went to Human Rights Campaign Press Secretary Charlotte Clymer, a transgender woman who was kicked out of Cuba Libre this summer for refusing to show an ID to use its ladies bathroom. Clymer told the crowd she’s thankful to live in a city that doesn’t tolerate that behavior and honored to be around chefs who believe equality is something worth fighting for. “A restaurant should be a place where hatred and bigotry are never welcomed, but where all are welcomed to sit beside each other, break bread together, and partake in that act of love,” Clymer said. “A restaurant should be where all in the public square become family.”

Charlotte Clymer
Nick Morrow

11) Starring Drinks: Taqueria del Barrio’s glitter-infused tequila cocktail was among the first to run dry. Another that went down quick was from Sarah Rosner, recently named head bartender at Bourbon Steak (the first woman to helm the Four Seasons restaurant’s cocktail program in its 10-year history). Her fall vodka elixir carried the name “Cuffing Season” as a playful ode to the dating ritual of committing to a mate while it’s cold outside.

12) Wine bar blooper: It turns out there should have been a little bit of a clarification when it came to identifying which Barcelona Wine Bar was hosting the after party. Naturally, it was the location just steps from the Cathedral, but many flocked to the packed one on 14th Street NW figuring it was there. Some were so determined to hit the after-hours event, they made the Uber turn right back. Lots of comped drinks flowing until last call made it worth the trek.

—Tierney Plumb contributed to this report