Odd town, Washington. Throw a kitchen party, like the one last night at Mazza Gallerie, and everybody comes dressed for the opera but talking of something they chopped, mashed or mangled over the stove.
"The hardest thing I ever made was a galantine of duck," said Barbara Eagleton, wife of the Missouri senator. "You start on Monday and it's ready on Saturday. And that was the first course."
"I handle a cervelle pretty well," said Channing Phillips, meaning veal brains. He's congressional liaison for the National Endowment for the Humanities and does cassoulets, too.
Maybe it was because traditional Washington social life has come to a pre-election halt. Maybe it was because gourmet cooking is chic. Or maybe it was because some segments of the affluent dabble in real estate and others in stainless steel fish poachers. (Item No. 493-0434 in the Williams-Sonoma catalogue, holds a creature nearly two feet long, $95.)
And then, maybe it was because the invitation to the Williams-Sonoma store opening said, "Whisk around the dance floor with Washinton's Great Hosts and Hostesses" -- then listed 57 politically or socially well-connected cooks who were either: A) Friends of the event organizer, dinner partygoer and giver Sallie Ann Robbins; B) Not averse to seeing their names on an invitation identifying them as great hosts and hostesses; or C) People who just might invite you over for dinner if you met them at a kitchen party.
Whatever the reason, several hundred of Washington's cooking, aspiring cooking or just plain eating crowd packed themselves like gooseberries in heavy syrup (15.5 ounces, $2.50) into the gourmet store last night. California-based and until now only acessible by mail order or jet to Washington's upper crust, Williams-Sonoma is to cooking equipment what beluga caviar is to snacks.
Matter of fact, there was caviar last night. American, though, and yellow-orange. "Nice," judged Jean-Pierre Goyenvalle of Lion D'Or, summoned by several partygoers to make a decree. "But I don't think it's something that I will put in the restaurant. When you have caviar, you like to have you mouth full of the taste, and that doesn't quite do it."
But everybody else ate it like a growing 15-year-old attacks taco Doritos. The fried chicken bits were equally popular. "I needed a new dress, so I just went into Saks and bought it," said a woman standing near them.
Here's what two people near the wooden spoons ($1.35) said in a conversation not at all about wooden spoons:
"How much is it?"
"Oh, probably $380,000."
"Well, it's renovated, though you've got to do some work. But it's got 300 acres."
And in front of an ice cream machine (produces a quart of fruit sorbet in 15 minutes, $750), you would have heard this:
"So are you going to buy it?"
"Heavens, no. I'd have to trade in my car."
Among the other gourmetware (including a $335 mixer with an attachment that kneads dough but looks, to a noncook, like Captain Hook's bad arm) you could find Susan Brinkley, wife of NBC's David; ViCurtis and David Hinton; Steve Martindale, and Betsy Warren, who runs a cooking school.
"There are a lot of people in Washington who are really into French food," Warren said. "It's made you seem more traveled. Suddenly, a meatloaf wasn't enough."