The Washington Ireland Program celebrated its class of 2016 last Wednesday with its seventh annual Evening with Celtic Chefs, which features chefs from around the D.C. area serving their finest Irish-themed dishes. The event, held at the St. Regis Hotel, helps raise funds for WIP’s leadership development program, which places students from Ireland and Northern Ireland in temporary positions within businesses, political offices, and NGOs across Washington, D.C.
Pints of Guinness were plentiful, as were several different kinds of soda bread—although only one that I saw without currants or raisins, the more traditional variation, from Two and a Half Irish-Men Bakery. That’s not to say anything was lacking in quality; every dish I sampled was prepared with great care.
However, the real highlights were those dishes with a little bit of creativity. Campono‘s Tracy O’Grady, for instance, used Bailey’s in the filling for her cannoli, which were light and not too sweet, with an airy, surprisingly delicate shell. I’m used to cannoli in general being less pastry and more battering ram; this one practically fell apart in my hands. Similarly, Gyo Santa, chef de cuisine at the St. Regis’s Decanter, successfully incorporated Irish whiskey into his king crab salad with mozzarella, for a faintly smoky finish. And the elderberry wine cheese from The Irish Inn at Glen Echo, although imported from Ireland, had a fruitiness and freshness to it that you’d never get from, say, cashel blue or cheddar.
The event seemed to be well attended, with guests moving between the Astor Ballroom and the adjacent patio, drinking, eating, and bidding on the silent auction. The auction went right along with the theme as well; it had the typical hotel stays and gift certificates (and, curiously, a bottle of Glenlivit), but there were a couple of prizes befitting the occasion. High bidders could win $200 worth of Kerrygold cheese and butter or an Irish pub package, comprising a Dubliner gift certificate, a bottle of the bar’s whiskey, a Dubliner T-shirt, and a pair of “fantastic” green shoes.
You could also bid to win CDs from the evening’s excellent entertainment, Bog Band. The group specializes in Irish music; its members, many of whom are local middle- and high-school students, played guitars, fiddles, and the bodhrán, a traditional Irish drum.
While there was a slide show cycling throughout the event, thanking sponsors and honoring longtime WIP supporters John and Joyce Flynn, formal remarks were kept short.
“We Irish know the power of good food and good drink,” said WIP board member Carmel Martin.