Sept. 12 could go down in history as the end of the rubber-chicken political dinner. It's the date of the third annual Golden Carrot award, presented in Washington by Public Voice for Food and Health Policy to honor members of Congress who have advanced the consumer interest in food and health policy. And it is the dawn of a new era in fund-raiser food.

This year's recipients of the Golden Carrot are Rep. Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), both supporters of nutrition programs in Congress and major forces in the food stamp program. The proceeds of the $100-a-plate reception are earmarked by Public Voice to strengthen and build local networks to represent consumers on food and nutrition issues. But the big winners are going to be the guests, who include those government, business and industry representatives supporting this consumer-interest group -- and some who oppose it but wouldn't miss this annual get-together anyway.

Last year Public Voice kicked off the fall season by honoring Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) and featuring the hors d'oeuvre version of the rubber-chicken dinner: raw vegetables and dip, and greasy fried tidbits galore. This year somebody realized that health and nutrition start at home and also at the cocktail reception. So the planners of the gala began considering cholesterol, fat, calories and fiber, not to mention good taste and culinary excitement.

The menu was chosen to be upbeat and new, said Pat Kelly of Public Voice. Fish. New Orleans food. The signature dishes of local restaurants. Washington food consultant Mark Caraluzzi was called in to organize the array. "The aim was high quality food rather than lousy catering food," he explained. It was to be food in the low ranges of cholesterol, calories and such, food correct for the season -- which may be considered fall, but in Washington is likely to be torrid.

He gathered the specialties of nine Washington-area restaurateurs and one seafood dealer -- Moe Cheramie of Old New Orleans Seafood Market in Virginia, who will bring New Orleans barbecued shrimp and set up an oyster raw bar. The menu is ranging from home-smoked salmon from Gabriel Aubouin of La Brasserie to stuffed veal breast from Restaurant Nora to cold timbale of fresh corn and lobster from Jean Louis restaurant. Dominique's is contributing miniature crab cakes, Joe & Mo's is sending veal piccata, New Orleans Emporium is cooking up its jambalaya, and Windows its rustic-style California calzone. Desserts will be from Lisa's Cafe. And an Asian touch will be added by Germaine's, with Germaine Swanson's Vietnamese spring rolls and her extraordinary, delicately tart and refreshing scallop salad.

It is a menu meant to satisfy the senses as well as making good sense. A menu that could warrant a Golden Carrot for Public Voice itself. Tabletalk

Students traveling abroad this summer have returned with tales of wonderful little budget restaurants where the local cooking could make them swear off fast food for life, but one young girl I know never did manage to appreciate the French art of sauce making. She hated the food, she moaned to her mother, shuddering as she recalled it: "It was wet." GERMAINE'S SCALLOP SALAD (8 appetizer or 4 main dish servings)

Chef Germaine Swanson has steadfastly refused to release this recipe for public consumption until now, though other restaurants have tried to duplicate it. A delicious and easy appetizer or light main dish, it can be prepared in advance and kept in the refrigerator. Thus it serves well for picnics or buffet-style dinners.

FOR THE DRESSING:

2 cloves garlic

1 small onion

1/4 cup white vinegar

1/2 cup salad oil

1 tablespoon salad mustard

1/3 teaspoon salt 2 dashes white pepper Fresh dill (optional)

FOR MARINATED SCALLOPS: 2 pounds sea scallops, cleaned and halved 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice White pepper to taste 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 to 2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce for serving 1/2 cup blanched snow peas, cut in half or shredded for garnish 1 tablespoon pine nuts for garnish Few sprigs of fresh dill for garnish

Place garlic, onion, vinegar, oil, mustard, salt, pepper and dill in blender and process until smooth. Store in a jar. Marinate scallops with lemon juice, white pepper and salt for 2 hours at room temperature, or refrigerate up to one day. Toss lettuce with snow peas and half of dressing. Arrange on serving plate.

Drain scallops, arrange them on lettuce and pour remaining dressing over them. Sprinkle with pine nuts and garnish with fresh dill.