Wednesday, May 24th marked the 9th annual Embassy Chef Challenge held at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center. This dynamic event supports and encourages Culinary Diplomacy, a subset of public diplomacy, that promotes cross-cultural understanding through cuisine.
In the atrium, a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks from some of the countries were situated in a semi-circle. There was a huge traditional bar in the middle. Some cultural drinks were also beside their corresponding country inside the room next to the atrium where the chefs were stationed. I tasted a healthy carrot drink from Morocco and especially loved the wines from Moldova.
There were more musical performances and dancing acts than any year prior. One stage built along the wall between the food booths and the stage in the atrium was utilized for the larger acts. Once I heard the familiar Middle Eastern music, I ran out of the food area to see a Whirling Dervish dancing the tanoura. Last month, I was in Dubai and Sharjah for the first time where I learned of this spiritual mesmerizing dance. I caught the end of his show on film as he spun the top layer of his skirt that was lined with small lights above his head as he spun like an old fashioned human tin top.
Whirling Dervish dancing the tanoura.
Photo Credit: Ronald Reagan Building
Chef Juan Jose Gallardo of Ecuador featured an assortment of delicious Ecuadorian chocolates. I was pleasantly surprised by his choice since I expected a savory dish. The chocolates were like mini works of edible art. Someday I would love to travel all over Mexico and South America; back pack through small towns and taste the array of street food along the dusty roads. Spend my days talking with the locals and hiking along trails and up mountains with my backpack full of local goodies to snack as I take in the magnificent scenery.
Throughout the evening, I enjoyed running into old friends I had not seen in years. One of my old friends highly-recommended the dish from Iraq. Chef Djamel Amroune made crusted lamb chops that were cooked to perfection and well-seasoned with crispy crust. This was one of my favorite dishes of the night. The beautiful plating only added to the savory experience.
Chef Cynthia Verna of the Embassy of Haiti’s wonderful energy drew me over and loved their colorful display. You could tell she was enjoying the moment. Her
shrimp ceviche dish was garnished with banana chips and I loved scooping up flavor exploding bites with the chips. This also was another favorite. They had a rum drink to pair with their dish that was refreshing and not too sweet. She would later go on to win the People’s Choice award.
Chef Moha Fedal and Chef Faical Zahraoui of Morocco took the Judge’s Choice award with his lamb shoulder seasoned with traditional Moroccan spices and a vegetable side that had been sealed in a tanjia – a Moroccan clay jar that takes food 4-6 hours to cook. I was in awe of how chef plated his dish with the lamb and vegetable resting atop a vibrant purple sauce.
The first Embassy Chef Challenge competition I attended was in 2014 and again the following year. I was delighted to see how much it had grown in a short period of time. I loved knowing there was either a live music or a dancing act in either room. If you missed the event this year, be sure to put it on your calendar for next year.