RAMMYs Shine Despite Industry Challenges

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Chef of the Year Amy Brandwein. Courtesy Centrolina.

Last night, Sunday, June 10, Washington’s restaurant glitterati tossed on their finest duds to toast to excellence in the dining and food-service industry. More than 2,000 donned elegant dresses, sequined pants and sparkling heels to drink, dance and celebrate the accomplishments of 2017 and beyond at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center for the 36th annual RAMMY Awards, hosted by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, at which winners in 21 categories were announced.

As in previous years, the public was given the opportunity to vote in four categories; an anonymous panel of judges, consisting of food and dining journalists, educators and food-service industry professionals, chose the rest of the winners. Given Washington residents’ predilection for brunch, it made sense that the people should decide in the two brunch categories. Upscale brunch was given to Osteria Morini; Ambar Capitol Hill won Everyday Casual Brunch.

Amy Brandwein of Centrolina took home the Chef of the Year award, another accolade after being named a 2018 James Beard Foundation Award semifinalist for Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic. New Restaurant of the Year went to Chiko, over other new greats like Maydan and Del Mar.

The RAMW Executive Committee saluted José Andrés and wife Patricia Fernandez de la Cruz with the Exceptional Leadership & Impact Award “for their remarkable contributions to the Washington, DC region, and for their incredible efforts they have taken as citizens of the world.” Andrés has been a champion in food-related relief efforts across the Americas, even more critical at a time when the U.S. government has not taken a leading role in the same.

The RAMW Executive Committee also presented the 2018 Honorary Milestone RAMMY Award to Tony and Joe’s, “a Georgetown dining staple celebrating 30 years on the Washington Harbour.”

RAMW President Kathy Hollinger kicked off remarks with an impassioned plea against Initiative 77, a D.C. ballot initiative that would eliminate the tipped minimum wage, or “tip credit,” and create a universal minimum wage. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who received a congratulatory shout-out for becoming a new mother, also took to the stage against the initiative, stating, “I’m not voting for Initiative 77, and you shouldn’t either.”

The industry has taken a hit this year from the sexual harassment scandals and Anthony Bourdain’s passing. Speeches at the D.C. ceremony emphasized the need for community and a spirit of togetherness. Heidi Minora of Commissary, who won for Best Manager, most vocally represented this sentiment, ending her speech with “love is love is love” in a reference to her restaurant’s participation in Capital Pride festivities.

Indeed, as the Capital Pride festival raged a few blocks south on Pennsylvania Avenue, the RAMMYs did not disappoint, as the crowd celebrated well into the evening on the dance floor, fueled by craft cocktails and a notable presence of brilliant-orange aperol spritzes. The night started with an oyster cocktail hour; guests move upstairs to the ballroom for dinner and dancing.

Four countries were featured at dinner: Peru, Chile, Argentina and Korea. Newcomer to the evening Tunisia made an appearance with a date and olive bar. Mixologists also created unique cocktails for the event. Standouts included an espresso martini by Service Bar, a complex drink with sherry and aquavit from Petworth Citizen’s Reading Room and lots of pisco.

Now for the winners:

Upscale Brunch of the Year: Osteria Morini

Casual Brunch of the Year: Ambar Capitol Hill

Favorite Gathering Place of the Year: The Daily Dish

Favorite Fast Bites of the Year: Moby Dick House of Kabob

Rising Culinary Star of the Year: Gerald Addison and Chris Morgan, Compass Rose Bar + Kitchen, Maydan

Beer Program of the Year: Owen’s Ordinary

Cocktail Program of the Year: Espita Mezcaleria 

Wine Program of the Year: Bourbon Steak

Joan Hisaoka Allied Member of the Year: USI Insurance Services 

Regional Food and Beverage Producer of the Year: Right Proper Brewing Company

Employee of the Year: Andrea Tateosian, Urban

Manager of the Year: Heidi Minora, Commissary

Upscale Casual Restaurant of the Year: Clarity

Casual Restaurant of the Year: Ivy City Smokehouse Tavern

Service Program of the Year: Minibar by José Andrés

Restaurateur of the Year: Ari Gejdenson, Mindful Restaurants

Pastry Chef of the Year: Tiffany MacIsaac, Buttercream Bakesho

Formal Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year: Masseria

New Restaurant of the Year: Chiko

Chef of the Year: Amy Brandwein, Centrolina

Note that restaurants need to be RAMW members to be eligible and cannot be finalists in the same category twice in five years.

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