The "food service industry" and Washington gourmets joined together last night in the most uneasy alliance since the final night of the Democratic National Convention. The scene was a dining room of the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel. The event was a dinner, attended by 120 persons and produced by a team of chefs that will represent this country in Germany next month at the "Culinary Olympics."
What startled the assembled gourmets was the degree to which the chefs have taken the haute out of haute cuisine. The featured dish of the evening was "Turkey Roll Oklahoma": nary a truffle, an essence of cognac nor a speck of foie gras intruded on its Midwestern purity. Baron Galand, the Olympic team coach, talked instead about the energy-saving aspect of baking ground turkey, about how it could be served in restaurants everywhere and how you could manage to produce six servings per pound.
The assembled gourmets, dressed in black tie or party frock, took a deep pull on the accompanying wine, a Robert Mondavi cabernet sauvignon 1975, and pronounced the turkey roll good. They also had high praise for a beautiful circle of julienne vegetables that enclosed a trio of braised onions and potatoes transformed into the shape of woodland mushrooms and a tiny pear stuffed with cranberry relish.
Earlier they had sampled a consomme garnished with raw chunks of tomato and snow peas, then sea bass rolled around Alaskan crab. It was served with new potatoes stuffed with potato puree plus yogurt and cheese -- an inspired concept -- and more snow peas. Eventually they would receive a complex salad and a dessert called "Chocolate Amaretto Parfait Philadelphia" that only the mayor of Chicago could hate, and only because of its name.
The meal was served in a formal dining room amid the conflicting distractions of television lights and classical music. Robert McDaniel, an official of the Chaine de Rotisseurs who had done liaison between the team and the guests, stood up very well under the burden of being introduced as "Washington's premier gastronome." Everyone reacted well to the thesis that "no longer do only the weak enter the kitchen and the strong round up the cattle," the beginning of a compliment to the team's first woman chef. And Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) turned from a sales pitch on South Carolina as a perfect site for a plant ("no union problems") to answer his wife's plea to "taste these beans" (snow peas).
About that time someone remarked from the podium, "So few people are aware of the Culinary Olympics." Enlightenment was found in a well-conceived press kit.
Gastronomic authority George Lang came down hard on the initial offering. He felt the sea bass and crab had lost their individuality and the combination had become a "tea room dish." But he approved of the turkey and at the end of the evening everyone had a chance to sample Wild Turkey liqueur, a potent liqueur that will be served in Germany along with American wines.
The "Olympics" grew out of an international culinary festival first held in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1900. Since the last major interruption -- World War II -- it has been conducted once every four years, on the same cycle as the Olympic games for athletes. But the cooking competition does not change location. It is always held in a giant exhibition hall on Frankfurt's giant fairgrounds in conjunction with a trade show.This year's week-long competition beings Oct. 24, with about 30 countries sending teams.
The 14 chefs work at hotels, private clubs and for such seemingly unlikely employers as Holiday Inn, Host International (purveyors of airline food) and Heinz. For the first time this year there is a native-born American on the front-line, hot-food preparation team.The members also will compete as individuals with cold food displays and food sculptures.
The United States first fielded a team in 1956 and won the event in 1968. Last year, despite collecting a record 28 individual medals, they finished in third place, tied with the French. Switzerland won.Canada was second.