Azerbaijan, a country located at the border of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, prepared a green salad with shaved cheese, garnished with pomegranate-marinated cherries. (Marckell Williams/The Washington Informer)
Azerbaijan, a country located at the border of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, prepared a green salad with shaved cheese, garnished with pomegranate-marinated cherries. (Marckell Williams/The Washington Informer)

A gastronomic overload best describes this year’s Embassy Chefs Challenge held recently at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. The competition kicked off the inaugural Events DC International City Food Festival. 

A huge crowd grazed up and down two floors, sampling bites and beverages from 39 participating D.C.-based foreign embassies. Chefs competed to win the prized People’s Choice Award, chosen by guest voting through QR codes. Recipients of the Judges’ Choice Award were selected by a panel of cultural and culinary influencers.

“It was great to see so many embassies turn out with such pride for their native cuisine and culture after a few years,” said Events DC Chief Creative Officer Jinhee Kim.

The Bahamas prepared a sampling of red snapper, conch, grits, and black-eyed peas in a mild brown sauce. Brazil served guests a cocktail with Cachaça, the country’s 500-year-old national spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice. Another favorite came from Azerbaijan, a country located at the border of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. Their table prepared a green salad with shaved cheese, garnished with pomegranate-marinated cherries. Mozambique served a plate of shrimp turnovers, pureed mung beans and a mango-bell pepper salad.

Announcing the winning chefs culminated this upbeat, colorful progressive munch and sip event. Chefs Xianlong Yang, Yuechao Zhao and Song Lin representing the Embassy of China took first place in the Judge’s Choice category with their fish-flavored shrimp balls and mapo tofu. Chef Alam Mendez representing the Embassy of Mexico won second place in the category with pork belly tamalitos with guajillo salsa and nopal (cactus) salad. Placing third, Chef Trevon Stoute representing the Embassy of Barbados who served a popular plate of crispy pork mille-feuille.

The People’s Choice winners were Chef Erwin Villarias representing the Embassy of The Philippines taking home first place with chicken inasal and majin ube. Coming in second was Chef Muhammad Asghar and Cultural Attaché Maliha Shahid from the Embassy of Pakistan with chicken tikka and gulab jamun. Chef Boris Ghazarian representing the Embassy of Armenia placed third with seasoned lamb and vegetables over rice, pomegranate sorbet and labneh ice cream with saffron.

The night ended with the announcement of the Challenge’s Best Beverage Award given to mixologist AJ Johnson representing The Dominican Republic. Johnson’s drink combined Brugal Extra Viejo, Chinola liqueur, sherry, orange, mint syrup, and cinnamon. Based on loud cheers, attendees enjoyed that drink.

“Congratulations to all the chefs and mixologists who competed. This event is only possible because of them,” Kim said. “Here’s to many more years of friendly and delicious competition.”

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Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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