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

At International AIDS Conference One Goal, Many Paths

The 12,000 delegates attending 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne have vastly different visions about how to eradicate disease More

Disasters May Doom Malaysia’s Flag Carrier

Even before loss of two jets loaded with passengers on international flights, company had been operating in red for three years, accumulating deficit of $1.3 billion More

Afghan Presidential Vote Audit Continues Despite Glitches

Process has been marred by walkouts by representatives of two competing candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani 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.
Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Agei
X
Elizabeth Lee
July 20, 2014 2:36 AM
Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.
Video

Video Diplomatic Crisis Grows Over MH17 Plane Crash

The Malaysia Airlines crash in eastern Ukraine is drawing reaction from leaders around the world. With suspicions growing that a surface-to-air missile shot down the aircraft, there are increasing tensions in the international community over who is to blame. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Undocumented Immigrants Face Perilous Journey to US, No Guarantees

Every day, hundreds of undocumented immigrants from Central America attempt the arduous journey through Mexico and turn themselves over to U.S. border patrol -- with the hope that they will not be turned away. But the dangers they face along the way are many, and as Ramon Taylor reports from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, their fate rests on more than just the reception they get at the US border.
Video

Video Scientists Create Blackest Material Ever

Of all the black things in the universe only the infamous "black holes" are so black that not even a tiny amount of light can bounce back. But scientists have managed to create material almost as black, and it has enormous potential use. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Fog Collector Transforming Maasai Water Harvesting in Kenya

The Maasai people of Kenya are known for their cattle-herding, nomadic lifestyle. But it's an existence that depends on access to adequate water for their herds and flocks. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA, on a "fog collector."

AppleAndroid