You can't blame a chef for wanting to make his or her own banh mi. The best Vietnamese sandwiches 'round these parts are all clustered in Northern Virginia, which, for those chefs not based in the hinterlands of Falls Church, requires a trip and an investment of time that most kitchen drones just don't have.
So increasingly, they're making their own versions of what has to be the world's most perfect sandwich, a combination of France's love for richness (pate, mayonnaise) and Vietnam's affection for pungency and contrasts (pickled vegetables and fish sauce to pair with that pate and mayo). Master baker Mark Furstenberg, for example, had constructed a monstrously meaty interpretation back when he was at G Street Food, while Dino chef and owner Dean Gold created the "white guy Asian" banh mi layered with duck liver, wild boar pate and wild boar prosciutto.
Both were an homage to the banh mi, and both were a long way from Vietnam.
Which is to say: Who knows what kind of interpretations will turn up when the chefs from Proof, PS 7's, Lyon Hall, Ba Bay, The Source and, yes, Dino compete as part of the Banh Mi Throwdown on Monday, March 14, at Ba Bay on Capitol Hill. A panel of judges, including Amanda McClements of Metrocurean and chef R.J. Cooper of the forthcoming Rogue 24, will decide the winner. (Disclaimer: I will be one of the volunteer judges as well.)
If you're wondering why these decorated toques are not competing against the humble banh mi makers from the Eden Center, the answer is simple, says Denise Nguyen, co-owner of Ba Bay: Those mom-and-pop shops are not participating in Share Our Strength's annual Taste of the Nation D.C., the event on April 4 to raise money to end childhood hunger. All ticket sales from the Banh Mi Throwndown will be donated to Taste of the Nation D.C. Tickets are $25 each and include banh mi samples and cocktails from Ba Bay mixologist Joseph Ambrose. They can be purchased here.
What's more, in the week leading up to the throwdown, from March 7 to 13, each participating restaurant will donate a portion of its banh mi sales to Taste of the Nation D.C. For more information, call Ba Bay at 202-547-1787 or visit its Web site.