Embassy Chef Challenge

embassy_challenge 1A tasty trifecta: New Zealand chef Nathan Bates took home the three top prizes at last night’s Embassy Chef Challenge gala, held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

Bates’ roasted lamb cutlet with a kiwi, herb and manuka honey relish earned him the Judge’s Choice and People’s Choice awards. The judges also announced that he won the preliminary challenge in February with his quinoa-encrusted smoked trout, a decision that was kept under wraps until last night. Bates, who has been the New Zealand Embassy’s chef since 2007, now gets to pick the ingredients for next year’s preliminary competition.

The other nine competing embassies had some excellent small plates as well, with fish being a big ingredient of the night. Guests flocked to South Africa’s booth to sample pickled haddock with capers, a surprising hors d’oeuvre packed with curry and a tart, pickle finish. Trinidad and Tobago served a lightly fried nugget of corvina with coconut curry nage and condo pepper; it was a flavorful, satisfying bite. Across the way, El Salvador presented filet of sea bass with mango and coconut water, and Norway served a potato and leek soup with slow-cooked cod.

Yet it was easy to see why the lamb got the people’s vote. By far the heartiest dish at the event, the lamb was tender, juicy and expertly cooked. The relish was a nice addition, too—refreshing and not too sweet. Almost every booth had long lines for the food, but this was definitely worth the wait.

Guests could also bid on items in a silent auction in between dishes. The items showcased the best of D.C., like high tea at the Norwegian Embassy, a Willard Hotel stay, and a private tour of the National Museum of African Art. Towards the end of the evening, Carla Hall hosted a live auction as well. While she’s doing a decent job of being a celebrity chef, she could easily quit her day job to become an auctioneer; she was auctioning off Persian rugs, couture hats, and business-class tickets to Abu Dhabi with aplomb.

All proceeds went to Cultural Tourism DC, a nonprofit that promotes cultural events around the District. Be sure to check out some of their upcoming free programs, such as Passport DC in May.

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