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Sound Bites brings block party and bands to benefit D.C. Central Kitchen

Tuesday - 5/14/2013, 1:08pm  ET

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D.C. Central Kitchen's Sound Bites event will be held inside and on the streets around the 9:30 Club. Guests will taste food from area restaurants, listen to local bands and watch 14th Street mixologists compete in the bar battle. (Courtesy of Ezra Gregg)
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Alex Beall, special to wtop.com

WASHINGTON - DJs and bartenders will soon mix it up at the 9:30 Club. But this time, it's not just for the venue's regular concert go-ers; it's to raise money for D.C. Central Kitchen.

Unlike other area fundraisers, Sound Bites features food from 25 District restaurants, live entertainment from seven local bands and a mixology competition between four 14th Street, N.W. bars -- all in a block party setting.

"We call it D.C.'s best block party," says Paul Day, communications manager for D.C. Central Kitchen. "We're always a little edgy, so we decided to venture and build this relationship with the 9:30 Club to bring a music festival to the 9:30 Club. So we're reaching a younger crowd that is interested in food but also likes the music and some of the other show components."

D.C. Central Kitchen is an organization that distributes 5,000 balanced meals a day to homeless shelters and nonprofits in the area. It assembles the meals using leftover food from local restaurants and farms.

"Food recycling is really just a matter of waste is wrong -- that's our philosophy -- and just taking that food and turning it into something that's very good and healthy for our clients," Day says.

Other programs at D.C. Central Kitchen include culinary job training, providing meals for public schools and the healthy corner store program, which brings fresh produce to areas that do not have access to grocery stores.

"We use food as a tool for community empowerment," Day says.

Sound Bites raises money via the event's sponsorships and from selling tickets priced at $40. The proceeds support all of the organization's programs, specifically the 14-week culinary training program that provides chronically unemployed people with "knife skills and life skills," as well as help finding a job. The culinary students can also assist and network with the participating chefs at Sound Bites.

The event, originally created by D.C. Central Kitchen's former development CEO Brian MacNair, aimed to gain support for the organization among younger Washingtonians through food and music.

Day expects this year's event to be the biggest Sound Bites yet, raising more money and drawing more attendees than past years. Around 1,000 people are expected to attend.

"Our experience with (Capital) Food Fight was that the first couple years it was small, but then it just blows up as people start seeing just how exciting and really cool it is," Day says.

The 9:30 Club in the U Street, N.W. neighborhood is a longtime supporter of D.C. Central Kitchen, says Seth Hurwitz, co-owner of the 9:30 Club and old friend of D.C. Central Kitchen founder Robert Egger. The club wanted to host Sound Bites as a charity event for a different group of people.

"Sound Bites is a good way to make our fans, the 9:30 Club fans, realize what D.C. Central Kitchen is and does for people," he says.

"It's a way to come and check out great music, great food and show people that food events and charities such as D.C. Central Kitchen are not just the domain of the Washington society types," he continues. "It's for regular people that live here and it's something we can all participate in and help out in. It does sort of strip away the pomp and circumstance of food events and charity events."

The 9:30 Club hosts the event for free and books the local musicians.

During the bar battle, bartenders from the 14th Street bars -- Black Jack, Bar Pilar, The Gibson and Birch & Barley -- will create a cocktail from a secret ingredient. Mixology experts will judge the competition.

E. Jay Apaga, bar manager at Black Jack and Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, will represent Black Restaurant Group in the mixology competition.

"It's a chance to showcase my talents and a chance to really have some fun and bring part of this community into D.C. Central Kitchen that probably wouldn't know anything about it," he says.

After participating in the restaurant portion last year, Black Restaurant Group owner and chef Jeff Black registered the group for the food tasting and mixology battle this year. Black will return with Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, serving a blue crab and gulf shrimp Campechana, a seafood cocktail.

Bar Pilar, another returning restaurant participant, will be involved in the bar battle and restaurant component as well. Bar manager Jonathan Fain will be mixing the drinks, while sous-chef Oscar Cruz will offer marlin ceviche to the food tasting.

Sara Thomson, the assistant general manager and events coordinator at Bar Pilar, sees this as a time for the 14th Street block to work together.

"We really like to come together for things that support the neighborhood and the District as a whole," she says. "This industry is really a big family. It's always nice to see your fellow restaurants at the table next to you and be able to sample their food and see what's coming out and what's new."

The food tasting will feature local restaurants, many of which already support D.C. Central Kitchen. They send chefs to perform cooking demonstrations and help with the culinary training program.

Gordon Biersch Brewery, a first time participant, began its relationship with D.C. Central Kitchen after the organization attended the opening events for the restaurant's Navy Yard location in April.

Gordon Biersch has its own foundation, Craftworks, which supports its restaurants in helping fight hunger in their communities. D.C. Central Kitchen gives the F Street, N.W. location a way to get involved.

"It's our way of giving back to the community, but not just giving money," says Lori Scott, sales and marketing manager for Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant group. "It stands for much more than that."

"We're a restaurant; we're based on feeding people. Our staff is all local and they are family to us, and knowing that to [D.C. Central Kitchen] also, the people they reach out to -- they consider them family as well. It fits perfectly for what we do and what we believe in."

Gordon Biersch will serve pulled pork sliders with barbeque sauce made from its own brewed beer.

Musical guests, including Lee Fields and the Expressions as the headliners, DJ Will Eastman and Batala, will accompany the food tasting and bar battle.

Sound Bites will take place on May 19 at 1 p.m.

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