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Recap: Embassy Chef Challenge

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You know you’re having too much fun at an event when you wait in long lines for food and are not at all annoyed. That’s how I felt at last Thursday evening’s Embassy Chef Challenge.

In the huge atrium of the Ronald Reagan Building, the fifth annual event had more than 500 revelers drinking, eating, bidding, and enjoying the atmosphere. It was a fun one: chefs from China, El Salvador, Jamaica, Korea, Norway, Russia, South Africa, and Trinidad and Tobago were not only serving up signature dishes, but also passing out shots, telling fast facts about their countries, and even doing dances in skimpy costumes (ahem, Trinidad and Tobago).

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Photo credit: Jason Morenz

The lines—some were wrapped around the perimeter of the party—actually moved pretty fast. And, thankfully, the bar in the center of the room had plenty of bartenders serving up cocktails and wine.

We circled, trying each and every dish. There was a People’s Choice Award to vote on, of course, so we were simply doing our duty.

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Photo credit: Jason Morenz

We ended up calling the winner before it was revealed: The Embassy of New Zealand was cooking up the most divine dish of the lot, a super tender and juicy lamb cutlet with kiwi, herb, and manuka honey relish on top.

It was the creation of a certain Chef Nathan Bates, who actually ended up winning all three awards of the night, including Judges’ Choice and Peoples’ Choice. One chef sweeping all the awards is a first for this event.

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Photo credit: Jason Morenz

But before the winner was announced, there was a lengthy program on stage. First, a touching tribute to Pat Skantze, the former benefit chair of the event, who apparently loved big, beautiful hats.

Then, Mayor Vince Gray made a special appearance, and talked about how amazing Washington, D.C. is. Here, here, Mister Gray!

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Photo credit: Jason Morenz

Finally, Carla Hall walked on stage, adding a little celebrity zing. The host of ABC’s The Chew, finalist on Bravo’s Top Chef, and finalist and “Fan Favorite” on Bravo’s Top Chef All Stars spoke about the importance of the event and all the dishes she loved.

And then, suddenly, to everyone’s shock, Miss Hall busted out some insane auctioneer skills. She was rattling off prices so fast and so loud that first, we all stopped and stared, open-mouthed, and then, we had to move away from the speakers. Our ears were ringing.

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Photo credit: Jason Morenz

It was the perfect way to end a surprisingly fun evening. Not to mention the event actually raised a ton of money for Cultural Tourism D.C., which not only enhances culinary diplomacy, but also underpins the arts, culture and history of Washington.

Cheers to that, our amazing city and its embassies.

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