Kitchen Diplomacy

By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Waiting for the North Korean ambassador to show up for dinner, Bobby Egan, who is the world's only barbecue chef/self-appointed unofficial American ambassador to rogue nations, launches into an impassioned monologue on why he, Bobby Egan, is a better diplomat than America's real diplomats.

"You couldn't put Condoleezza Rice or Madeleine Albright on a level with me in dealing with the Koreans," he says. "They've never even been in a fistfight. I've been in fistfights -- including with the Koreans. These are tough guys. Condoleezza Rice is a piano p layer. She's not a rugged, all-American boy."

Egan keeps peeking out the window of Cubby's, his barbecue joint, looking for North Korea's ambassador, Pak Gil Yon. Pak isn't here yet so Egan hops up on a chair to point out some souvenirs of his bizarre career as a diplomat without portfolio.

He points out a photo of himself sitting in a limo with Nizar Hamdoun, who was Saddam Hussein's ambassador to the United Nations. They were on their way to a Giants game.

"Hamdoun was a great, great guy," Egan says. "His daughter took karate lessons with my daughter."

He points to a picture of himself on a boat with a group of Korean men holding big, dead fish. "This is the first time I took the North Koreans fishing," Egan says. "The FBI didn't want me to take them. I said, 'This is the United States of America -- I need your permission to go fishing ?' We caught a ton of fish, and when we came back to the dock, the FBI was taking pictures so I said, 'Let's show 'em what we caught!' "

What do Egan's customers make of these pictures of the owner entertaining diplomats from two-thirds of the "axis of evil"?

"They don't care," he says. "Most Americans understand that as much as the Koreans are full of [bleep], so is our own government."

Intense, garrulous and profane, Egan, 50, looks and sounds like an extra in "The Sopranos." Now, he steps off the chair and bounds into the kitchen. Cubby's is closed today, but a few cooks are whipping up a private barbecue banquet for Pak and his entourage. Egan issues a few orders to his crew, then glances out a window and spots the Koreans in the parking lot.

"They're here," he says. "Get in the back!"

North Koreans don't like reporters, Egan explains, as he hustles his interviewer into a tiny office behind the kitchen. He fiddles with a TV that sits on the desk, behind a crucifix. A picture appears -- a silent, closed-circuit TV image of the Koreans entering Cubby's dining room. Egan leaves the office, closing the door.

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