News / USA

Tasty Détente: Embassy Chefs Trump Diplomats for One Night

Demonstrators outside the Ronald Reagan Building, site of the The 2014 Embassy Chef Challenge, Friday, Oct., 7, 2011.Demonstrators outside the Ronald Reagan Building, site of the The 2014 Embassy Chef Challenge, Friday, Oct., 7, 2011.
x
Demonstrators outside the Ronald Reagan Building, site of the The 2014 Embassy Chef Challenge, Friday, Oct., 7, 2011.
Demonstrators outside the Ronald Reagan Building, site of the The 2014 Embassy Chef Challenge, Friday, Oct., 7, 2011.
Chefs at Washington embassies usually need to please only a small universe of diners: the ambassador, embassy staff and guests at diplomatic functions.
 
But recently in Washington, an array of international chefs donned their best white uniforms and prepared some of their finest dishes in a diplomatic cooking competition that has become an annual event.
 
The 2014 Embassy Chef Challenge last month brought a diverse set of cooks, from Botswana to Venezuela, who sought to feed the public and sway a panel of culinary judges.
 
The event was sponsored by the non-profit group Cultural Tourism DC in the atrium of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center on Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue.
 
There were famous national dishes, such as Italian eggplant, Iraqi kibbeh, Jamaican jerk salmon and Nepal’s momo dumplings. Polish women in traditional dress accompanied their embassy chef’s offering.
 
The Russian embassy decided to take an untraditional approach by mixing fish and dessert in their chef’s salmon ice cream offering. Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak was very proud of what he termed a “unique recipe” that he helped refine in tastings with his chef.
 
Kislyak and his ambassadorial colleagues ranging from Latin America’s El Salvador to Asia’s Thailand, said in brief interviews they were also relieved to be at an event that was informal--and centered on food rather than political differences.
 
North Korea, Syria, Ukraine and other world trouble spots were set aside.  Culinary competition triumphed over geopolitics for an evening in Washington.
 
“It’s so loud that you can’t talk seriously,” Moscow’s emissary Kislyak said. “That’s something I like about this event.”
 
“It is one day to leave behind the troubles of world,” Thai ambassador Vijavat Isarabhakdi said.  Vijavat would later have huge diplomatic issues to face over his country’s coup.
 
It took  Isarabhakdi’s wife some time to locate the Thai ambassador among the spread-out group of inviting embassy food stations.
 
“I was sampling the competition,” he said.
 
A Jamaican diplomat sipped coconut water and said he enjoyed the chance to visit other countries simply by going around the room.

Chefs in charge
 
The normal Washington power order was turned upside down, with the chefs being in charge of representing their countries and the ambassadors left as hopeful bystanders. The cooks took their craft as seriously as diplomats pondering the implications of a speech.
 
Turkish embassy chef Hasan Siyam had been working for days on his entry: tender lamb wrapped inside eggplant, accompanied by mini-rice pilaf in a phyllo dough dome.
 
“Turkish food you have to work,” he said, compared to “American food, mostly burgers, hot dogs, pie—that kind of stuff.”
 
Several chefs said a secret to cooking in embassies is to literally leave a flavor of their home country, no matter what the origins of the dish.
 
Norway’s chef Sindre Risvoll, who started culinary school at age 15, prepared North Atlantic halibut confit, accompanied by smoked puree of celeriac, sun choke, and cured game meat.  At an informal event, he said he might serve burgers “but with soured cabbage for a Norwegian twist.”
 
A colleague from a very different country also took the same approach to embassy cooking.
 
“I take a typical American dish and fuse it with a Latin touch,” said El Salvador’s Edgar Melendez, who was serving tenderloin of beef, but diced with Salvadorian plums in honey brown sugar.
 
At the embassy chef event, those normally behind the stove were glad to come out and be put on public display with their colleagues. Some had their names embroidered on their chef’s jackets.
 
Botswana’s chef Boitshwarelo Graffius was grateful to have the opportunity to see how her pulled goat meat with sweet onion sauce, butternut squash and spinach would stack up among the judges.
 
“This is a competition. At the embassy, I’m just cooking,” she said with a hearty laugh.
 
In the end, the judging was a split decision, with salmon triumphing in both categories. The culinary professionals voted for Thailand’s “Phla Salmon,” spicy salmon salad.
 
The People’s Choice Award went to Russia for its unusual but popular salmon ice cream. It was a triumph for Russia in a building named for Ronald Reagan, seen by many as prevailing over the Soviet Union in the Cold War.
 
More than a dozen chefs lined up for a group portrait in their formal outfits, as if they were national leaders at a world summit. They chatted animatedly as television cameras captured the scene in several languages. A volley of cameras clicked to take their picture.
 
For one night in Washington, international politics were put aside and the chefs were the star of the diplomatic show.

Lee Michael Katz

Lee Michael Katz is an award-winning journalist, analyst and author.

Currently a prominent freelance writer, Katz is the former Senior Diplomatic Correspondent of USA Today and International Editor of UPI News Service.He has reported from more than 60 countries.  Katz’s expertise includes foreign policy and diplomacy, peace talks, national security, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction policy, foundation grants, business and financial topics.

You May Like

Westgate Mall Attack Survivors Confront Painful Memories

On anniversary of terror attack, survivors discuss how they have coped with trauma they experienced that day More

Iraqi Kurd President Urges World Community to Protect Syrian City

Islamic State fighters are besieging Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, after seizing at least 21 surrounding villages in a major assault against city on Syria's northern border with Turkey More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid