Armed with only their knives and culinary experience, chefs from seven embassies competed Sunday morning to create the perfect dish in Challenge Hungary, the preliminary competition for the fifth annual Embassy Chef Challenge.
The event, held at Occasions Caterers impressive Taylor Street facility and presented by Cultural Tourism DC, featured chefs from countries as diverse as New Zealand, Jamaica and El Salvador. Their task was to cook a meal using ingredients—trout, vine tomatoes, paprika and sour cream—picked by last year’s winner, the Hungarian Embassy’s Viktor Merényi. Chefs had to use three out of four ingredients (none used sour cream).
Merényi was also one of five judges who represented D.C.’s foodie elite. The others included Washington Post food reporter Tim Carman; Occasions’ executive chef Sina Molavi; Penny Karas, the owner and executive pastry chef of Hello Cupcake; and Xavier Deshayes, the executive chef of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.
One by one, the chefs presented their dishes to the panel, after an intense few hours in the kitchen. The judges were complimentary of each chef’s dish and impressed by their skilled use of flavor and off-season tomatoes. Karas seemed to particularly enjoy the tomato chutney that Sherene N. James, the Jamaican Embassy’s chef, created.
“I think what she did with the tomatoes and chutney was brilliant…I’d eat that on anything,” she said.
Overall, however, the judges were quiet. They took notes intently and spoke softly amongst one another, not overly willing to broadcast their opinions to those present.
Merényi said that he found being a judge harder than being part of the competition.
“It’s very challenging to determine the winner,” he said.
So who won? You’ll have to attend the March 14 Embassy Chef Challenge gala to find out. The chefs will present their best regional hors d’oeuvres for a second round of judging at the gala, which will be held at the Ronald Reagan Building. The scores from Challenge Hungary and the gala hors d’oeuvres battle will determine the Judge’s Choice Award winner.
Guests can also look forward to silent and live auctions, appearances by Carla Hall and other celebrity chefs, a top-shelf open bar, and the chance to select the recipient of the People’s Choice Award. Proceeds will benefit the free programs and events offered by Cultural Tourism DC. Purchase your tickets early—last year’s gala sold out!