The James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour made its eighth annual stop in Washington on Tuesday night at the Source by Wolfgang Puck, for a seven-course meal prepared by 10 noteworthy local chefs, including Mike Isabella, Haidar Karoum from Proof, and Scott Drewno of the hosting restaurant. The tour expanded by three cities this year, to 19 stops, adding Houston, San Diego, and Birmingham, Michigan, to its yearlong calendar of events, aimed at promoting the foundation and chef who started it.
“A lot of people don’t know who [James Beard] was or how he got this whole crazy chef thing started, so we wanted to introduce people to him and the foundation [created by Julia Child after his death],” said tour president Jeff Black. The foundation recognizes noteworthy members of the food and beverage community with its annual award presentation in New York.
Black works with the hosting restaurants in each city to plan the local events, which draw crowds of 100 to 130 people. The participating chefs personally plate each course on the menu. Washington’s event swelled to 145 people this year who purchased the $200 ticket.
When it comes to choosing the participating cities and restaurants, Black relies on word of mouth and the tour’s track record to draw interest. “It’s become popular enough that chefs want to be a part of it and restaurants call us and ask to come to their city,” said Black, who added that a James Beard-recognized chef will be flown to a city if the hosting restaurant doesn’t have one, as was the case with a dinner in Hawaii on January 20.
Tuesday’s event began with a cocktail reception, with passed hors d’oeuvres like Woodlands mountain ham on country bread, topped with bourbon peach chutney from Bourbon Steak and branzino tartare from Graffiato. Five local mixologists also created signature cocktails for the evening. The dinner menu included sashimi of fluke served with heirloom tomato and basil vinaigrette from Restaurant Eve, lamb carpaccio with Caesar salad ice cream from the Inn at Little Washington, and Chinese duck with Queen Anne cherries and lo mein from host chef Scott Drewno. Birch & Barley provided dessert, preceded by a pastry amuse from Dolcezza.
The tour continues on to nine more cities, including Minneapolis, Houston, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Chicago, before wrapping up in Seattle on November 17. Visa Signature, Mercedes-Benz, and Stella Artois sponsored for the third year.
**Photos: Paul Kim
(Originally published 8.18.11 in BizBash Washington)