Tag Archives: embassy chef challenge

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!


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!


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


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.


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!



18 Mar

Okay guys, I know I was joking around on Friday when I joked about the Rock ‘n’ Roll USA race going better for Stef than his last one did…but I think I jinxed it.

After a nice relaxed evening of Trader Joe’s shopping and watching Flight (pretty decent movie, actually), we headed off to bed so we wouldn’t be too exhausted for the 5:30 AM wake-up call.

3:15 AM: Sara wakes up to strange noises coming from the bathrom; realizes Stefano is not in the room.

3:16 AM: Sara goes into bathroom to discover Stefano huddled over toilet, post-vomit.

3:20 AM: Sara and Stefano go back to sleep.

Repeat for hours 4, 5, and 6.

After the final flush of the night morning, it was decided that the chances of Stefano making it to the starting line were slim to none. He finally went back to bed and remained there for the rest of the day. His big move was dragging himself over to the couch to watch Rivalry Weekend for MLS soccer on TV.

Another Rock ‘n’ Roll race gone and Stefano has the t-shirts but not the medals to show for it. Poor guy has the worst luck.

It sounds like it was bunches of fun though, many congratulations to all my fellow bloggers who raced! 13.1 miles is no joke.

After playing nurse for the day, I left Stef parked on the couch with some hot water with lemon and honey and met up with my roommates to go to the FBI vs. Secret Service hockey game.



Though we showed up right before the game started, we were able to snag seats up front with a really good view of the game. My only knowledge of hockey involves fistfights and time-out boxes so I was eager to see what a real game looked like.

IMG_2236[1]Turns out FBI and S.S. men/women are all about the fights and time-out boxes, too, so they did little to change my opinion of the sport. I think the refs were calling it tighter than usual, but there weren’t any neat brawls where helmets were thrown off and teeth went missing.



It was fun to watch, though. The FBI ended up losing to the Secret Service 3-6, but everybody was pretty good natured about the whole thing.

IMG_2237[1]I made it back to Stef’s just in time to watch the Sounders play the Portland Timbers – I can’t believe we blew a goal in the last few minutes of the game. Our team is looking pretty solid though, I’m expecting quite a few W’s this season.

Okay folks, it’s getting to be late over here and my alarm is set for an early morning yoga class, so it’s time to hustle my butt to bed. This week I’m recap-ing my time at the NBC Health and Fitness Expo and the amazing night at the Embassy Chef Challenge (I’m still fantasizing about the food!).

How was everybody’s weekend? Is it looking like spring in your neck of the woods yet? It snowed in D.C. today, so I’m gonna go with a big fat ‘NO’ over here.

Have a wonderful night and I’ll catch up with you tomorrow!





Raindrops on Roses

15 Mar

Raindrops on roses, while beautiful, are not among a few of my favorite things. Instead of a Follow Friday post, I wanted to use today to post about some of my magia moments this week. I know lots of people do this type of thing (what is it with bloggers and alliteration???) but I just couldn’t wait until Monday to share. So, without further ado…

  • Random run-ins: I was out for a lunchtime walk yesterday when I ran into Allison! I have been missing her face lately because we almost never see each other at the gym anymore (what’s up with that, girl?) so it was so wonderful to see her! We were both on our lunch breaks and getting some fresh air and sunshine so she introduced me to P Street and we caught up on life. She is awesome, guys, seriously.
  • Honoring my body: I talked about this yesterday, but I’m extra glad that I have been listening to my body and not forcing it to do something for the sake of a “quality workout”. I have been loving the morning yoga (best #10for10 goal ever) and am reminding myself that yoga is just as necessary for my body as cardio and HIIT is.
  • Peanut butter cookies: My roommate cooked up a batch of peanut butter cookies the other night and they are SO good! Generally speaking, I do not care for peanut butter-flavored things (I do love PB, though!), but these cookies have been out of this world. I’ll have to sneak his recipe to share with you guys.
  • Bathroom dance parties: I always bring my phone into the bathroom while I am getting ready in the morning so I can rock out to some tunes on Pandora while attempting to put eyeliner on correctly (that never happens). Lately, the playlists that have been popping up have been amazing! What is it about hearing one great song after another that brightens your mood? Loving this.
  • Embassy Chef Challenge: I will post a full recap of this next week, but if you follow me on Twitter, you can get a peek into how my night went. It was wonderful!!! I kept saying to Stef how I wished I had four stomachs so I could eat more delicious food. I was full to bursting, but it was worth the stomach pains because now I know why people drop lots of money to go to events like these. If I had my way, I would go to something like this at least once a month.

So those are a few highlights of the week that’s finishing up and here’s a sneak-peek into the things I am looking forward to this weekend:

  • Rock ‘n’ Roll USA: Rock ‘n’ Roll is coming to DC on Saturday! Stefano is racing and I am so excited to cheer him on. Here’s hoping he crosses the finish line, unlike his first RnR race…I know many fellow bloggers in the area are going to be running this, so make sure to let me know if you’ll be there and I will be there to cheer for you!
  • NBC Health and Fitness Expo: I have no idea what to expect from this thing, but I like health and fitness and free samples, so what’s the downside? Plus, Allison, Ashley, and Carly are going to be there, so more HLB fun!
  • FBI vs. Secret Service hockey game: I know nothing about hockey and have no idea why I’m going, but my friends are going so it’s guaranteed to be fun.

Food For Thought: What are some of your magia moments from this past week? What are you looking forward to in the upcoming weeks?

Wishing you all the best weekend and a very happy St. Patrick’s Day! I am not Irish and have absolutely no history of celebrating it, but I will manage to find something green to wear on Sunday 🙂

Eating Around the World: Embassy Chef Challenge

12 Mar

Hi lovelies! Sorry for the lack of posting yesterday, but I’m still here! I’ve got a pretty exciting week coming up and one of the things I’m most looking forward to is the 2013 Embassy Chef Challenge.

embassychefchallengeSome of you may have noticed the fun little button on the right hand side of my page showing you my upcoming events and adventures and this is one of them.

Presented by Cultural Tourism DC, the Embassy Chef Challenge is a face-off between some of the world’s most talented chefs who work at embassies from all corners of the globe. For this jet-setting gal, it’s a chance to go on worldwide eating tour without even leaving my city.

For the fifth year in a row, embassy chefs compete in front of a panel of judges and over 400 guests to represent their country’s cuisine. At stake are two awards: the Judge’s Choice (decided by the panel) and the People’s Choice (decided by the plebians guests).

Though these chefs usually only serve diplomats and heads of state, they’re going to be presenting hors d’oeuvres for our critique and will be judged by a well-respected panel of foodies, including Top Chef’s Carla Hall (did you know she lives in DC?) and Duff Goldman from Ace of Cakes (cue girlish squeal). I am just excited to rub elbows with people who have cooked for this guy:

Smiling is not allowed in Mother Russia.

Smiling is not allowed in Mother Russia.

What’s great about the event is that it supports all the programs and events that are sponsored by Cultural Tourism DC throughout the year. As a nonprofit, they are doing amazing work to promote the arts and culture in the DC area. Coming from a broke post-grad, I can appreciate that they try to offer tons of free events that are accessible to everybody.

I am really looking forward to the event because there are several participating countries whose cuisine I’ve never tried. Having lived on three continents, I consider myself to be a well-traveled person, but there are so many countries I have yet to visit. I will be perfectly honest when I say a lot of my interest in a country is dictated by how much I like their cuisine, so I am hoping that by tasting lots of different foods, I will have a few more places to add to my travel bucket list!

Here are the competitors:

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

How were the finalists decided? Last month, there was a Top Chef-style competition between a larger pool of chefs who had to create a main course in two hours with one common ingredient and basket of surprise ingredients (a la Chopped).

On Thursday night, the second round of judging takes places when the finalists create hors d’oeuvres to be judged by the panel and the guests. The scores from the first round and this round will be tabulated to determine who will be the NEXT TOP EMBASSY CHEF (feel free to say that out loud in the voice of Tyra Banks from America’s Next Top Model).


Needless to say, I can’t wait to try delicious food from around the world and rub elbows with diplomatic bigwigs. The big question remains, though: what in the heck am I supposed to wear?

If you’re in the DMV and and foreign foods get your juices running, there are tickets left, so come join in on the fun! There’s an open baaaar…

If you aren’t in the area, feel free to follow along live on Twitter or Facebook on Thursday night.  Here are the deets:

Provided both my hands aren’t occupied with stuffing my face, I will be live tweeting the event, so if you follow me on Twitter, you can join in on the fun from afar.

Food For Thought: Have you been to any of these countries/tried any of these types of foods? Which cuisine would you be most curious to try?

I have had Trinidadian cuisine several times and I absolutely adore it, but I have no idea what to expect from New Zealand or South Africa. Can’t wait to find out!

A big thank you to Cultural Tourism DC and Vanessa French for providing tickets for the event for myself and Stefano. 

%d bloggers like this: