Out-of-season tomatoes stir global response at the Embassy Chef Challenge

February 11, 2013

As the winner last year's Embassy Chef Challenge, Viktor Merenyi had the honor of selecting the main ingredients for this year's preliminary cook-off at Occasions Caterers, and he exhibited all the diplomacy of Khrushchev and his thundering shoe: The Hungarian chef made his peers create something tasty with out-of-season, vine-ripened tomatoes.

Chef Ismar Reyes from the Embassy of El Salvador roasted his tomatoes with full cloves of garlic. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

Sunday's Challenge Hungary -- the first of two cooking contests that will determine the Embassy Chef Challenge winner this year -- also required the seven chefs to use rainbow trout as their center-of-plate protein. It made for one of the more, well, challenging challenges as chefs from El Salvador, Jamaica, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Russia and Trinidad and Tobago had two hours to apply their culinary knowledge, personal tastes and, sometimes, native spices to the final entree plate. (Chefs from Afghanistan and China backed out at the last minute.)

I served as one of five judges (others included Merenyi and Penny Karas from Hello Cupcake), and I can say that, by and large, we ate very well. The chefs found smart ways to extract flavor from, or add flavor to, those typically tasteless tomatoes, whether by smoking them or roasting them or turning them into robust sauces. They proved that fresh winter tomatoes don't always deserve our contempt.

The winner will be announced on Thursday, March 14, at the Embassy Chef Challenge 2013 at the Ronald Reagan Building, where the chefs will be judged one more time on their ability to crank out hors d'oeuvres for a gala gathering. This event, a fundraiser for Cultural Tourism DC, is open to the public. Tickets are $250 and available online.

In the meantime, below are some of my tweets from Sunday's Challenge Hungary:

Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires he ingest more calories than a draft horse.
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Jess Righthand · February 11, 2013