MARCH IS going to come in like a spectacle this year, for Feb. 28 and March 1 are the days of the annual Culinary Art Show sponsored by the Restaurant AssoM ciation at the Sheraton Washington Hotel. This is Washington's most elaborate rebuttal to fast food; chefs individually or in teams spend months constructing fantasies, made entirely of edible materials, which are impressive displays of the talent hidden behind the kitchen doors of Washington. Open Sunday, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Monday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., the Culinary Art Show asks a $2 donation of the public attending.
In Miami, when your car is washed the inside is sprayed with pina colada air freshener. That came to mind one day when Connecticut Avenue traffic was backed up by a car wash line. Wonder what flavor could create a traffic jam in Washington? Saumon en croute? Thrasher's french fries? And wouldn't it be nice if car rentals included a little flavor of the city? Maybe lobster scent in your Bangor, Maine, Toyota; or a chili-scented Cadillac waiting at the Dallas airport.
Possibly the best gas-saving device of the year is the opening of a Bethesda branch of Vace, that enormously respected Italian food shop on Connecticut Avenue NW. Now that there are two, Vace's bargain-priced homemade pasta ($1.45 to $1.55 for ribbon noodles, $3.25 to $3.35 for stuffed) is going to save many a lasagna-maker a few miles. The new shop, at 7010 Wisconsin Ave., has the same homemade sausages, mozzarella, cannole and pasta sauces (tomato, meat, pesto and walnut) as the original. It also has homemade pizza, but in the freezer case rather than fresh, at least until the ovens are installed. Sandwiches and soups are available for carryout, and beer and wine will eventually be stocked. It is a family operation, with papa running this one and mama the D.C. one. So it is no surprise that they're closed Sunday; other days, both Vace shops are open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The sweet onions of Vidalia, Ga., not only have an entire festival in their honor, they are important enough to have imitators and frauds. In fact, the Vidalia onions we tasted last year, which we expected to be mild enough to eat like an apple, were as hot and tear-provoking as any plain old anonymous onion. So we still haven't tasted an authentically sweet raw Vidalia onion. But we have tasted "Gourmet Pickled Vidalia Onions," put up in one-pound jars by Conner Farms in Georgia. And they are mellow, sweet and tart, a very pleasant pickle, said to be at their best chilled and served with cream cheese and crackers. A one-pound jar costs $5 at Capitol Hill Wine and Cheese.
While Washington has no dearth of cooking schools, it can still get excited over a new one when the teachers are the likes of chef Jean-Louis Palladin or the chef of the Peruvian embassy. And that happens for the fourth time this spring, as the Homemaker Health Aide Service again presents its benefit cooking course, the nine sessions taught by chefs from restaurants (this year El Bodegon, Caspian Tea Room, East Wind, Jean-Louis, L'Auberge Chez Francois, Romeo and Juliet and Tiberio) as well as Ridgewell's teaching party hors d'oeuvres in its own kitchen and the Embassy of Peru offering Washington cooks the rare chance to learn something about Peruvian food. The classes are at L'Academie de Cuisine, Tuesday mornings and afternoons from March 9 through April 6, at a cost of $200 for the series of nine, $75 for three, $30 for single lessons on a space-available basis. For reservations, call 320-4511. As a preview, here is a recipe from the Embassy of Peru:
SPICED FOWL WITH WALNUTS AND RICE (6 to 8 servings)
This dish is usually served at large gatherings to celebrate the 28th of July -- Peru's Independence Day.
1 large hen or two medium chickens
2 cups chicken stock, skimmed 8 slices bread, without crusts
1 cup non-fat milk 1/2 cup corn oil 1 medium onion, grated 1 clove garlic, grated%T4 tablespoons fresh hot peppers, seeded and ground Salt and pepper 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts 1 cup heavy cream 2 hard-cooked eggs, for garnish Rice, for serving Boil chicken in water until tender for approximately 1/2 hour. Drain and save chicken stock. Debone chicken and shred it or cut it in small chunks. Set aside.
Soak bread in one cup of milk and put it in a blender. In large pot, heat oil; saute' onion, garlic and hot peppers until tender. Add pure'ed bread, then add skimmed chicken stock. Stir well. Season with salt and pepper.
Add the small chunks of chicken, the grated parmesan cheese and walnuts. Heat thoroughly. Finally add the cream and stir well. Adjust seasoning. Garnish with hard-cooked eggs and serve with rice.
Giuliano Bugialli, since he turned from the life of an academic historian in Italy to cooking teacher/cookbook author in New York, has been on the run -- summers teaching cooking in Florence, winters teaching cooking in New York and around the country, and in-between, writing cookbooks and articles. And now he is whizzing through Washington to teach cooking at L'Academie de Cuisine (Feb. 25 to 27), and for a brief free demonstration at Kitchen Bazaar, Feb. 25, noon to 1:30 p.m. See what the Italians can do with fast food.
When Jason Korman went from selling rare wines to selling croissants on the street, he discovered that in street snacks as well as in wines, "Quality matters to people more than I thought it did." In the rare wine business though, he said, people often couldn't tell quality. But when people get an inferior croissant from one of his Corner Gourmet Shops stands, they come back and return it, as several did one day when the croissants hadn't risen properly. Last fall Korman's company "merchandised the breakfast period," as he put it. Then, having grown to 11 trucks, it expanded to lunchtime with stuffed croissants and strombolis, nuts and dried fruits. With all this expansion and optimism, however, Corner Gourmet Shops have given up on one attempt. Hot coffee. Said Korman, nobody's interested.
Reports from a recent housewares show in Chicago confirm that there is not much new under the sun. Phyllis Frucht of What's Cooking in Rockville was entranced by the Braun Minipimer, a hand-held blender with the blade on the end of a wand, which we saw at a German housewares show nearly 20 years ago. She also predicts a bright future for a cheese-making variation of the yogurt maker; says Frucht, it makes very good feta cheese. And she liked an indoor quartz barbecue that heats in 30 seconds, a cast-iron stove-top pizza pan (produced by a local Virginia company) and the Kenwood soda maker, which carbonates water via chargers that last through 25 one-cup charges. Handsome gadget--looking like an updated milkshake maker--but at $80 for the machine and $2 for the chargers, it makes carbonated water an expensive proposition. The two potential fads that seemed to us the most-likely-to-fade are the electric raclette machine and Le Saucier, which heats and stirs sauces. If that is what people want, the next logical step is an electric ice cream maker that can turn to heat at the flick of a switch. (No, that's not a suggestion we hope anybody will take us up on.)
We also heard from the Rowoco kitchen equipment company about what's new. Recently it has emphasized left-handed tools--zesters, corkscrews and the like. What we liked for their beauty and non-gimmicky practicality were olivewood utensils--chef's spoon with a hook for the oven rack, scrapers and spatulas, ranging from $3 to $10. Rowoco's ice cream scoops, sturdy spring-action ones, now come in several sizes and even in an oval shape, for $11. And its newest rolling pins have--at long last--rulers etched in them so you can measure as you roll. But what the public still likes best of all Rowoco's 1,300 items--and we agree--is the Sharpie, a keen little serrated tomato knife for $5. Now also in a left-handed version.