International conflict was never so tasty.

At the Embassy Chef Challenge Thursday night at the the Reagan International Trade Center, a culinary arms race was afoot: there was pilav from Uzbekistan versus kibbeh from Iraq. Momo from Nepal stacked up against saka-saka sauce from the Congo.

In the annual contest benefiting Cultural Tourism DC, chefs from 15 nations duked it out, presenting dishes with roots in their home countries for judgement by a panel of experts (which included our colleague Tim Carman) and by the event’s attendees, who included ambassadors, State Department types and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. At competing stalls, the embassies vying for the glory offered extra enticements to go with the plates of food. Russia was handing out shots of vodka. Attractive women in flowered headdresses and peasant skirts poured beer at Poland’s station. Iraq’s was decked out with exotic vases.



And even though Thailand wound up with the top prize for its lemongrass-spiked salmon salad and Russia scored the people’s choice award for an unlikely-sounding salmon ice cream, there weren’t really any losers.

“Let the waistline go and eat as much as you can,” commanded Capricia Marshall, the former chief of protocol and the event’s honorary chair.

And the attendees seemed to comply. “Have you been to Norway yet?” a woman asked her companion, pointing toward a booth. “Go!”

“El Salvador rocks,” raved a man as he downed the contents of his plate.

Even Bart Vandaele, the Belgian-born restaurateur behind Belga and B Too (and a judge for the evening) confessed that he was trying new things. “There are things here that are new to my palate,” he said. “Which is great, because you can’t go to every country, and not every country is represented in the restaurants here in Washington.”


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