The theme of this post is: the women chefs of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region are the COOLEST PEOPLE ON EARTH.
Also, World Fare: A Street Food Festival, sponsored by Women Chef and Restauranteurs as a benefit for scholarships for women to attend culinary school, was the COOLEST EVENT EVER.
Exhibit A being the fact that I walked through the door and promptly saw, met, and took a picture with CARLA FROM TOP CHEF!
Seriously, apologies in advance for the insane quantities of capital letters that will be used in this post.
Following is a vaguely chronological version of events.
Bounced into Willow, a beautiful Arlington restaurant headed by Tracy O’Grady, formerly the sous chef at Kinkead’s, now rockin’ her own establishment known for their relationships with local growers (they frequently have hiiiiiighly delicious demos at my farmer’s market).
Admired general splendor, both in terms of the restaurant’s decor:
And its more… gustatory greetings!
So it seemed wise to start with a drink, right? Right, I thought so too.
Plus I saw this:
Beety peach drinky. A cocktail. With beets.
Unfortunately do not remember as many details as I could. There was beet juice. There was gin. There was fresh mint. It tasted like summer.
But now for the big stuff: the food!
There was a street food theme, and you basically went from table to table, all staffed by amazing female culinarians along with their friends, families and supporters, and you stuffed yourself.
And if you were into it (and you KNOW I was into it), you got your cute little passport type thing stamped. Which got ya deals!
Let the tour begin!
From Ris Lacoste (whose new restaurant is terribly buzzworthy right now and one at which I desperately want to dine), the best soup… ever? Wild mushroom and white truffle bisque. Velvety velvet.
Tortilla espanola, with optional chorizo (I had it without; I decided that limiting myself to only meat whose ethical origins I knew would do both my conscience and my belly good).
Someone slightly creeped out by my camera (in my defense, there were a lot of people taking pictures. There was beautiful food!)
On that tray was not tater tots, as I admit I excitedly thought from a distance, but salt cod fritters with saffron aioli. Yes. Saffron aioli.
Braised Beef en Daube Provencale
Know how I know the exact name? Because I have the recipe, yessss (more on that later).
They were a good sport about my ethical meat interrogations and told me they got the beef donated for the event and it was from a small Virginia farm, so I was like “Yeah, Imma eat this right now.”
Then I did.
It was on polenta and sort of exploded with flavor. I need to braise more, note to self!
Not just spring rolls:
Blue crab spring rolls from Equinox. On top of that aioli? Lobster roe.
Amish-country chicken liver pate with pistachio and some kind of fruit jam.
Chicken liver. Pistachios. Jam. It’s all so obvious now!
Original gruyere (a bit abandoned looking in the back), Mexican with chorizo, and bleu cheeeeeeeese yes pleeeeeeeeease!
The Indian station (The woman working there was from Mumbai and so friendly and sweet!)
There was some of that delightful street snack mix, which had all kinds of beans and nuts and tomatoes and herbs. There was a cool mini dessert which had rose water and the intriguing addition of basil seeds, which I have to say I had never heard of. They plump up like chia seeds and are scrumpsh.
However, the highlight is what I’m going to call a potato slider.
Featuring two kinds of sauces, one with cilantro and one I forget, it was a fried, zest-ified patty of awesome.
Sliders were pretty much the name of the game.
From Hank’s Oyster Bar, oyster po’ boys that were out of this world. Everything was homemade- the fried oysters, the fabulously chunky tartar sauce, and the unbelievably delicious breaddddddddd.
How’s about some ethically raised DUCK in chinese-spiced sliders?!
Why did I photograph these but not eat them?! Priorities seriously out of order there, Lele.
Watched Janis McLean, the warm and personable chef at 15 Ria, make sort of unreal wild mushroom crepes.
While chatting with me about seasonality, mushrooms, and the fact that she could just laugh when the salmonella scare happened because she knew exactly where her eggs came from, she filled wonderfully herbaceous crepes with a wild mushroom mix that incorporated some of the usual suspects (portabellas and shiitakes), and some decidedly not (I have now eaten chanterelles!). Then she sprinkled them with hazelnuts and drizzled them with a sauce, which made it, of mascarpone with dijon mustard. Dijon and mushrooms are just… bliss. Note to self.
But let’s be honest. The coolest people are going to be the bartenders.
That awesome hair? Yeah, I know how to do that now. It’s not rollers, it’s just a curling iron. You can just do your bangs with a little twirly motion, which she reached across the bar and demonstrated on my scalp.
Then we started chatting and I mentioned (highly self-deprecatingly, “No, really, it’s just my little labor of love”) my blog.
And she was like, um, you MUST meet Gina Chersevani, queen of the mixologist universe who works at PS 7 and is tight with bloggers.
Since she had invented and made me that beet cocktail, I was kind of already in awe of her.
Then I got to watch her make something else spectacular:
“The cure”. Ginger cognac (!), lemon, and, seriously, Miller High Life. With fresh ginger on top, yes ma’am.
And for the record, anyone knows me knows I hate beer. But it just completely made sense, this combination. Without beer, this cocktail would be like… Beethoven’s 9th without the Ode to Joy.
Needless to say, it made me joyful.
I cannot even tell you how COOL all these culinary types are! The bartenders introduced me, knock-kneed and in total groupie mode, to Todd Gray (!) who if you are not a fangirl like me is the chef from Equinox (!!!!!) and we chatted a bit by the Skins game.
Then I went to the Equinox table to get their card and I talked to Ellen Gray, his wife and the manager of Equinox and a wine genius and a locavore and a lover of animals and just one of the coolest people I have ever gotten to chat with.
We talked about how great the event was, and how there was a unique spirit that came from having women chefs- a family spirit. As evidenced by all the awesome children running around.
(Me: Hey chef! What’s your favorite thing to cook?
Awesome child: Cookies!
Me: Me too!)
And, OBVIOUSLY, I’m at the table of Equinox, the place that pioneered local food in the DC area 10 years before anyone else talked about it, so we talked about food. It was really more me doing a bit of interrogating.
Lessons from Ellen? Layer flavors! Don’t try to hit people with one bam. Build up the flavors, and then if you want finish it off with wine to be just a final component in things.
And then I fessed up my absence of knowledge about wine (in fairness, I am 21) and was like “So let’s talk about Malbec.” She said go for a more heavy protein on your plate, but you don’t have to be a stickler about reds-with-red-meat, whites-with-seafood. Salmon, for example, could be nice with Malbec. Duly noted!
And then just for fun, I asked what her favorites were this time of year, and she said squash was an obvious choice and recommended making it satisfying and not too heavy for the flipping-back-and-forth-between-hot-and-cold-weather by lightening it up. She recommended a whipped up airy puree on toast. Yes please!
Definitely following her Twitter!
Then…. it was time for dessert.
Met some way cool students from L’Academie de Cuisine, who were making crepes!
There was your choice of fillings. On things like this (crepes suzette? NUTELLA?) I am hopelessly indecisive and defer entirely to the experts.
What did they like? The Thanksgiving: butternut crepes with homemade pralines. And then there were sauces to pick from, and they said “Do you want sauce?” and I said “Do I want sauce?” and one guy said “Chocolate!” and I happily obeyed.
Coconut-basil macaroons. Dear rest of the world: start putting basil in your macaroons.
Start putting curry in your cashew brittle.
Women Chefs and Restauranteurs, the sponsors of this fabulous thing, have a fabulous logo. And it’s particularly great on top of gingerbread sandwiched with marzipan.
In general, there was a lot of mini-dessert, which is great cause then you can eat like seven:
Particularly worth noting was the chocolate-coconut-buttermilk-caramelly awesome cake from Vidalia (where I ate once during Restaurant Week and still vividly remember), and the scrumpsh peanut butter sandwich cookies from Willow.
Oh but wait now there’s some salted caramel ice cream! Yes.
Rich would be such a ludicrous understatement.
At this point my body was like “Hey champ how about we HYDRATE?!”
I was happy to oblige with the gang at Great Falls Tea Garden, where I tried fennel chai (?!) and a wonderful blooming Chinese tea that somehow managed to taste like chocolate.
There was a silent auction, where I so wanted to win this:
And then at out-loud auction, where Carla displayed some seriously extraordinary energy and ended up raising a lotta money.
You got to see all the amazing women chefs together and it seemed like a seriously incredible community.
This was among the coolest things I have ever gotten to attend. Amazing people, amazing food! I actually ran into someone I went to high school with who is now a legit CHEF running STATIONS at WILLOW. So cool.
And I did not go home empty handed.
Our stampable passport doubled as a menu booklet (braised beef here I come!)
We got pomegranate balsamic glaze!
Readers of the world, what do I make with this?!
Celebrate Chefs is basically the airline miles program of food. You eat at a restaurant, you charge it on your usual credit card, you get points and it somehow raises money for charity (to be honest, I forget how this works exactly, but they gave us a free cookbook). I hate flying and love eating, so this is particularly perfect for my family.
Plus, yknow, both my mother and I smuggled out a napkinful of cookies:
My mother, who can now no longer say she never wins anything, got a deluxe Cabot cheddar cheese basket.
We now have 6 pounds of cheese. And a cute apron. And are pondering the difference between extra sharp, seriously sharp, and, most fantastically, racer’s edge sharp.