Edible, Edifying

March 8, 2012

Danish Embassy Chef Lars Beese won last year's "judges' choice" award at the Embassy Chef Challenge

If you think food-tasting events can be stuffy and snobby (as I do), then you might like the open-minded, international spirit of the Embassy Chef Challenge (7:30 to 10 tonight at the Ronald Reagan Building; tickets $250 at Culturaltourismdc.org). It’s an annual event in which embassy chefs compete to prepare the tastiest food. Winners are chosen by the crowd of about 400 and a panel of chefs and critics.

The 14 embassy chefs (who normally don’t cook for the public) will serve foods that aren’t common in D.C. Moroccan Embassy chef Nazha Kasraoui is preparing a “milk pastilla” dessert with almonds. South Korean Embassy chef Young A. Byeon Lee is making a traditional “gujeolpan,” or “platter of nine delicacies,” containing veggies, meats and seafood. And Kazakh Embassy chef Yerlan Abdrakhmanov is presenting shrimp tartlets (pretty novel, since landlocked Kazakhstan isn’t known for its seafood).

The competition’s first round occurred in February, with a “Top Chef”-style contest in which chefs made a dish with a “secret ingredient” chosen by last year’s winner, Danish Embassy chef Lars Beese, above. He said he picked beets to get everybody out of their comfort zones. Mission accomplished! “The chef from Japan had never worked with beets before,” Beese says. “The chef from Jamaica was, like, ‘Beets — what are those?’”

To me, that sort of eye-opening experience is what a great food-tasting is all about. If you’re attending tonight, I wish you a similarly baffling (and enlightening!) time.

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