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This Chef Keeps More Than One 'Iron' in the Fire

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Sunday, July 9, 2006; D03

Quite a year for chef Morou Ouattara -- he lost one restaurant, won Washington's "Iron Chef" title, battled Bobby Flay , gained a daughter and finally got his very own kitchen.

Last summer, as Ouattara sliced and diced at Signatures restaurant, scandal simmered around owner/lobbyist Jack Abramoff. In October, Ouattara won the local "Iron Chef America" contest and the right to represent D.C. on the Food Network. But the feds were closing in on Abramoff, and a month later Signatures shut its doors.

Undeterred, Ouattara headed to New York in January for the competition and went toque-to-toque with Flay. The results will air tonight at 9 on the Food Network, and Ouattara is sworn to secrecy about the outcome.

"Oh God, it's a lot of fun," he said last week. He brought along two assistants: pastry chef Leon Baker and sous-chef Eddie Marine.

Team Morou created five dishes in one hour, all using the show's trademark "secret ingredient." (From the network previews, we're guessing peas.) "When you get there, the most important thing is knowing the kitchen," said Ouattara. "That's the advantage of the Iron Chefs. They already know where everything is."

Watch for lots of racing around and trying not to bump into the cameras. "Look for the flavors I'm putting in," said the Ivory Coast native. "I used a lot of African ingredients to make my dishes."

Ouattara returned to Washington for the birth of his second daughter and a deal with Balducci's to do in-store demonstrations and create dishes for the market. He also bought his first restaurant: He's taking over the former Blue Point Grill on Franklin Street in Old Town Alexandria and renaming it Farrah Olivia by Morou, after his 2-year-old daughter. The new menu? "I always say I cook like I speak -- American with an accent." The 60-seat restaurant is slated to open in September with Baker as pastry chef (Marine is now the head chef at Red Sage) and Ouattara's wife, Heather , as general manager.

Like the rest of Washington's foodies, Ouattara's seeing the show for the first time tonight. "We hope we look good," he said with a laugh. "It's all about looking good."

Legal Affair Cools Off -- for Now

Looks like the dirty bits (well, more dirty bits) of Steinbuch v. Cutler are on hold.

The infamous case, now snaking its way through the legal system, hinges on the age-old issue of kissing and telling, admittedly with little kissing and much telling. Did Jessica Cutler's "Washingtonienne" blog account of their lovemaking invade Robert Steinbuch's privacy, although she only referred to him by his initials? How many people would have known if he hadn't sued her? Can we talk about this without giggling, please?

Last week, Judge Paul Friedman granted a stay on Steinbuch's discovery process "pending determination of defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction," which means that Steinbuch's lawyer, Jonathan Rosen , can't depose Cutler or anyone else until the stay is lifted. "The motion is completely meritless," said Rosen. "This is postponing the inevitable."

Shockingly, Cutler's lawyer sees it differently. "I'm very pleased," said John Umana. "It's a very positive indication that the court is seriously considering my motion to dismiss."

Guess that means we'll have to reread her blog again.

Readers Tell Us

Washington, D.C., asks : How can one get invited to these swanky embassy parties and other "must attend" functions in the area? I want to make myself over as a mover and shaker in this town!

Conventional wisdom says the best way to get those engraved envelopes in your mailbox is to donate some serious bucks to worthy causes and organizations around town -- or date someone who does. But savvy veterans of Washington point out that plenty of organizations, including embassies, have receptions and parties all the time, many free or for a small fee (and probably crashable if you're really desperate) where you can network like crazy and possibly flirt with a Boldface Name. Though probably not during the summer, when most of the A-listers have decamped for more exotic locales. Should you stumble across one, tell us all about it at reliablesource@washpost.com .

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