The 2016 Embassy Chef Challenge was held at the Ronald Reagan Building on May 25th. The 8th annual event brought together chefs from 18 countries around the world who showcased their culinary skills, and the cuisine unique to their country.
The event proved to be a wonderful opportunity to experience many unique locations, people, cuisines, and cultures under one roof. The national pride was apparent at each table. Through their food these chefs shared their land. By the end of the night my belly was full and my taste buds were spent in the best way possible. Alas, only one chef and country could be crowned as champion.
Attendees made their way around the crowded room to the different displays for the competitors. Each country had their own table which they decorated in their nation’s colors, with elaborate table displays, signature beverages, and tasty small bites. To further drive home the global feel of the event, performers from a variety of nations were on stage dancing to the music of their country.
There were also passed hors d’oeuvres, such as vegetable empanadas stuffed with quinoa and spanakopita which gave tasters something to nosh on while waiting in line. On top of the cultural beverages, there was also a stocked bar with wine and cocktails.
While none of the dishes disappointed, here are some of the night’s travel-worthy offerings:
Barbados provided a tropical rum punch and thinly sliced rum-infused pork with a delightfully tart tamarind sauce on a small bed of crunchy slaw.
The British Virgin Islands offered a Painkiller cocktail, which wasn’t as scary as it sounds. The creamy sweet libation made of dark rum, pineapple and orange juices, and cream of coconut, was dessert in a glass that transported imbibers straight to the sun, sand, and sea of a BVI beach resort.
Haiti opened with a Ti-punch while the chef plated callow gumbo with oxtail and crispy pork belly.
Ecuador had a long, slow moving line… which proved to be totally worth the wait. The program boasted a simple shrimp ceviche, however, when you saw the large array of garnishes and the passion of the chef you knew this was no simple ceviche at all. The shrimp were incredibly fresh with a pop of lime and the dish had many layers of texture from the roasted corn, toasted quinoa, and fried plantain. On top of that the meticulous preparation made for a gorgeous presentation.
Indonesia served sate srepeh with urap. If that’s not ringing any bells for you, this Indonesian dish was a tender chicken skewer served with a crispy cracker cup, filled with a lime- and ginger-flavored slaw. It hit every note.
Finally, the night’s winning dish — as well as was my personal favorite — was from the Philippines. Bringhe is simply defined as seafood rice, but that description does not do it justice. Chef Claude Tayag explained his dish as a type of seafood paella with purple rice. This small plate packed a powerful punch of flavors. Tart, sweet, spicy, and delicious. OK, so delicious isn’t a flavor, but it should be. It was no surprise the Philippines took the prize for the night.