Around the World in an Evening

25 Mar

Wow, thank you all for leaving such kind and insightful comments on my last post. Feeling frustrated or lost seems to be pretty common among bloggers at one point or another. At the end of the day, nobody is making us post each day and if it starts to feel like a chore, then that really defeats the purpose of blogging. I really appreciate all the wonderful feedback from people – much love to all of you!

As you may well remember from that post, I revealed that my true passion lies in food, especially through the context of travel and education. I was bit by the travel bug at a very young age (my first international trip was before I was a year old!) and the sickness has continued, virtually unabated, for the past 23 years.

Well, less than two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel around the world without even leaving my own city! Thanks to DC Cultural Tourism, Stefano and I were invited to the Embassy Chef Challenge and the International Trade Center, where we ate, drank, and were merry for the whole evening (aside from when my heels were killing me – I am a flats girl, though and through).

When we first arrived, we were seriously impressed with the simple elegance of the building.

IMG_2194[1]The space was large and open, with the different countries and their cooking areas along the side, a bar on the middle of the room, and plenty of space to walk around.

So excited to get our food on!

So excited to get our food on!

Because there clearly wasn’t enough food, they had tons of servers walking around with passed hors d’oeuvres and cruditees.

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200I have to say, every single time they were offered to me, I took one. When in Rome, no?

We finally decided to make the rounds and visited each of the participating countries:

• China
• El Salvador
• Jamaica
• Korea
• New Zealand
• Norway
• Russia
• South Africa
• Trinidad & Tobago

We started with Russia, which turned out to have my favorite dish of the night.

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200I love, love, love duck, so this was right up my alley. It was a creamy stew in a light pastry tartlet and had plenty of fresh duck pieces in each bite. Stick to your ribs and hearty – just my style.

Next up was New Zealand, which was my runner-up and Stef’s favorite: lamb.

IMG_2196[1]Lamb all the way from New Zealand? Sign me up.

IMG_2197[1]The powdery white stuff you see in the spoon is not cheese (like I first thought), but is actually dehydrated olive oil. When you placed it into your mouth, it re-constituted itself and became oily again – crazy!!! This Modernist Cuisine-esque food just blows my mind. The lamb was tender and I loved the relish made from fresh kiwi.

IMG_2195[1]There was quite a line and I ate mine too fast to snag a close-up picture, but the potato and leek soup from Norway was so scrumptious! I loved the pieces of Norwegian cod that added some bulk to the soup without making it heavy. Chef Simon was the youngest of the competitors – only 19 years old!

norwayBy the time we arrived that the Chinese representation, we were beginning to feel the effects of the hors d’oeuvres and first few appetizers. But anyone who knows us is aware that we are capable of putting away an impressive amount of food, so we dug in (in all senses of the word!).

IMG_2198[1]The Chinese plate was a combination of several smaller bites which included barbecue chicken and sauteed prawns.

Plated right before us

Plated right before us

A little bit of everything

A little bit of everything

Note the fork. I am an amateur and cannot eat with chopsticks to save my life – especially not while standing and walking around!

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One of my favorite dishes was that of El Salvador, which consisted of a bright, fresh ceviche of sea bass with mango and coconut.

IMG_2204[1]After lots of heavy, creamy foods, it was refreshing to get a light, citrus-y appetizer. The mango paired so well with the sea bass and a nice dose of citrus really brightened up the dish. I could have eaten the whole bowl with a spoon!

IMG_2205[1]As we walked on, the flavors were getting progressively more tropical. Next up: Jamaican jerk chicken. Sign. Me. Up. I declared my love for Jamaican food on this blog way back in July and I was excited for another chance to try these delicious island flavors.

IMG_2206[1]The chicken kabob was flavorful, with a nice kick of spice to it. I could have done without the accompanying salad which was plain and did nothing to enhance the plate. IMG_2213[1]More chicken!

IMG_2211[1]

While the Korean plate wasn’t my very favorite, the chef’s assistant was my favorite person.

korea

She was so bright and bubbly, answering all the questions that came at her and telling us about how the Dangun legend roll got its name.

IMG_2209[1]

The roll was very complex – it included kimchi and was pan seared for a nice crisp.

IMG_2212[1]It was back to tropical with Trinidad and Tobago serving corvine (a type of fish) in coconut curry nage with congo pepper.

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200South Africa threw us off because they began with a starter dish when we first arrived and when we looked again, they were plating something entirely different! We had our hands full with the second round, but here’s a peek at the appetizer.

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

Their main dish was a traditional South African favorite called chakalaka, which can be made mild or spicy. The one we tried definitely had a kick to it! It has lots of peppers, onions, beans, spices, and chilis and can be used as a side dish or a sauce.

As the judges were deliberating and the guests were digesting, Top Chef Carla Hall entertained us all by turning into an auctioneer and putting some great auction items up for grabs. Among them were a beautiful Persian carpet and a first-class trip to Abu Dhabi. Stefano and I made sure to keep our hands well below eye level, lest they mistake our gestures as an okay to take our money.

IMG_2220[1]Mayor Vincent Gray also popped down to talk about Washington and how fabulous it is. Stef and I joked, saying that you know you’re at the event of the evening when the mayor stops by to work the crowd.

IMG_2215[1]In the midst of all these shenanigans, desserts were being passed around – lest any of the guests starve after three hours of straight noshing. You know I ate every single one I could get my hands on. Among the selection were red velvet mini cupcakes, peanut butter brownies, and a divine chocolate cupcake with walnuts and lots of buttercream frosting. My favorite, however, was this adorable grasshopper cake-pop.

IMG_2224[1]Remember the frozen push-pops you ate as a kid? This worked the same way: push up from the bottom and nosh on delicious layers of mint and chocolate mousse. So decadent, yet light at the same time. This is why people pay the big bucks to go to events like these.

In the end, the votes were tallied and the judges had made their decision. The winner was…

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200New Zealand! Clearly Stefano has winning taste and voted for the eventual champion (my pick was Russia). We did agree that New Zealand gave itself a bit of an unfair advantage – who can say no to a succulent lamb chop?

The chef collected his award and invited us all to continue to eat. At that point, I wish I could have, but my stomach was physically in pain from the amount of food I had crammed into it. We said ‘uncle’ and decided to call it a night, but not before I said hi to this splendid lady!

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200Major fan-girl moment. It actually took a lot of effort for me to go up and talk to her – I was so nervous to approach her! I don’t know that I have ever actually met anyone from TV before, so I had to say that I was a bit star-struck. Stefano convinced me to go say hi so he could take a picture of me for the blog (he’s learning!). She was very friendly and just seemed genuinely nice and laid back. Carla Hall totally has a new fan in this girl.

Despite the pain in my stomach and my aching feet (stilettos are NOT the way to go on a cement floor), we left incredibly satiated and so happy to have experienced such a wonderful event. It was one of those nights that reminded me how lucky I am to live in a city that has all these international cultural events and that I can tame my travel bug (a little!) by doing a happy hour at the French embassy or taking tango lessons at the Argentinian embassy. I promised myself that I would get out there and explore all that the international community in DC has to offer.

Thanks again to DC Cultural Tourism for the wonderful opportunity – promise me you’ll let me come next year!

embassy

2 Responses to “Around the World in an Evening”

  1. wickedhealthywashingtonian33 March 26, 2013 at 7:48 am #

    Girl. You have me drooling over here. I’m insanely jealous that you got to go to something so amazing! Those mousse pushups might just be one of the coolest desserts I’ve seen. So glad your palate knows whats up- Russia all the way. Also, I totally get you on the fan girl moment- I get so weirdly “star struck” when I see TV personalities, political figures, baseball players, or celebrities in person. My dream in life is to meet (/marry) Bobby Flay but I have a feeling I wouldn’t be able to actually get a word out if I met him in real life.

  2. projectwhitespace March 27, 2013 at 7:12 pm #

    This sounds like an absolutely fun event! I also love travelling and so being able to do an event like this right in your home town would be great. The pictures are great and pretty sure your boyfriend is learning about the blogging thing by encouraging you to talk to that woman (who I don’t happen to know–Carla–I don’t watch a lot of TV).

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