WASHINGTON — Visiting 40 countries in one year is a difficult feat, even for the most ambitious traveler. But on May 24, you can experience a taste of all these countries in just one night at the Embassy Chef Challenge.
This year, the annual culinary showcase is bigger than ever, with nearly twice as many chefs battling for the title of best dish. And while the competition among the chefs is serious, the message behind the event is much more peaceful: It highlights food’s role in diplomacy.
“Food is like music. You break the wall and you share your common values when you share your food with other ethnicities,” said Red Garcia, the chef at the Embassy of the Philippines.
“It brings camaraderie and bonding between nations.”
Garcia says this year, he’s taking advantage of Washington’s newfound love for Filipino cuisine.
Knowing many diners are already familiar with Filipino egg rolls and barbecue, he’s serving “binalot” by wrapping rice, meat, fish and pickled vegetables in banana leaves.
“That’s our lunchbox, back in the old days,” he said about the wrapped dish.
“We want to emphasize the values and tradition and what Filipino [food] is all about. We want to showcase this year all of the identity of the Filipino.”
Over at the Embassy of Ghana, chef Francis Otoo is preparing for the event with his recipe for jollof rice with chicken and fried plantains.
“It’s known across Africa and because of that, I want to introduce it to the world as well,” Otoo said.
And this year, Bolivia is shining a spotlight on the country’s beloved spirit, singani, with a modern twist on the traditional Chufly cocktail. Bolivia has been making singani for more than 500 years, and similar to pisco, its main ingredient is distilled grapes.
“The intention is to show how well it blends with other liquors and [food] from other cultures as well,” said Diego Prudencio from the Embassy of Bolivia.
Other dishes featured throughout the evening include salmon ceviche and merquén mussels from Chile, and a piña colada mahi mahi filet from Barbados. The Embassy of Azerbaijan will pour wines from its high-altitude growing regions.
The event, hosted in the atrium of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, will also have live music and dance performances.
Guests will no doubt go home with full stomachs, but Otoo hopes they’ll also leave with an appreciation for the transformative power of food from different cultures.
“In Africa, there have been wars, but because of food, it’s brought people together. Because when they call the leaders together, the first thing to do is have to break bread. And by eating, they start interacting.”
Garcia added, “There’s no color in food.”
Tickets to the Embassy Chef Challenge are available on Events DC’s website.