Barbados, Panama win top prizes at Embassy Chef Challenge

Barbados and Panama win top prizes at the 2024 Embassy Chef Challenge

At Thursday night’s Embassy Chef Challenge, attendees were treated to a unique tasting experience featuring dishes from nearly two dozen embassies serving their country’s finest cuisine.

The halls of D.C.’s Union Station were transformed into an international dining hall with small plates and cocktails.

Aaron from DuPont Circle missed last year’s Embassy Chef Challenge and said he wanted to attend this year’s event even if tickets cost $150.

“It is a hefty amount of money but we love food,” he said. “I think this is a really great opportunity to try different cuisines of all the other countries that we typically don’t see in D.C.”

Those in attendance were asked to vote for their favorite dish as they tasted their way around the globe.

Chefs Damian and Ann-Marie Leach representing the Embassy of Barbados took home first place with their curry lamb, breadfruit cou-cou and Bajan sweet bread.

“It feels really good and well deserved,” Chef Ann-Marie said. “We put in our heart and soul over the last week. We came in all the way from Barbados just for this and feels really, really good to be appreciated.”

The second People’s Choice award went to Chef Bandar Alhenaki from the Embassy of Saudi Arabia. Chef Wattanaphong Kongwattana representing the Embassy of the Kingdom of Thailand placed third.

Chef Jovana Urriola representing the Embassy of the Republic of Panama took home first place in the Judge’s Choice category with their Panamanian Style Afro Caribbean Chicken Tamale Dumplings.

Chefs Lin Song, Lu Tao, Li Xiao Feng, Jia Wehhni and Zhu Xianglin representing the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China won second place in the category. In third place were Chefs Aris and Raymond Compres representing the Embassy of the Dominican Republic.

Mixologist Darwin Banegas of the Embassy of Peru took home the Best Beverage Award after he shook up the competition with a Peruvian Chica Morada.

Performances from groups dressed in traditional, elegant garb danced at center stage throughout the evening, providing a festive touch to an already exciting evening.

“This is my passion,” said Norma Small-Warren, a founding member and director of Grufolpawa, a D.C.-based organization that celebrates and performs Panama’s traditions. “It makes me feel transported back to my country, so I feel like I’m back in Panama.”

The group performed a Panamanian folkloric dance at the event. Small-Warren is a professor at Howard University but performs with the group throughout the D.C. area.

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Erron Franklin

Erron Franklin is a Social Media & Video Editor with WTOP News. Prior to joining WTOP, he worked in public affairs programming at C-SPAN.

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