James Beard Dinner Benefits Local Restaurants

Running a small local business successfully has always been a challenge and among the most difficult of those — and hardest hit during the pandemic —are restaurants.  The James Beard Foundation has long been a supporter of local restaurants and chefs. One delectable way it does this is through their Taste America program, encouraging diners across the country to celebrate and support local independent restaurants. Twenty participating chefs around the country will collaborate throughout the year, pairing up and highlighting culinary creativity in a series of fabulous multi-course dinners paired with marvelous wines and cocktails.

In Washington, D.C., Executive Chef Angel Barreto hosted a beautiful dinner July 14 at Anju in Adams Morgan, featuring modern interpretations of Korean cuisine. He was joined by guest chef Anna Castro of Lengua Madre in New Orleans. Their creations were a feast for the eyes as well as a pleasure for the palate, as were the adult beverages paired with each course.

The evening began with a festive cocktail featuring tequila and gochugaru,  a staple spice in Korean cooking made of dried chili peppers that have been deseeded, leaving just a hint of heat and a bright red color.

Next came an appetizer of Bayo Bean Tlacoyo with Crema and Radishes. Made of maize, it is similar to a corn tortilla but thicker. Interestingly, this was paired with both a white and a red wine. The Côtes du Rhône, M. Chapoutier, Belleruche, 2021 is a white wine blending Grenache blanc, Roussanne, Viognier and Clairette et Bourboulenc. The second wine was the Côtes du Rhône, Château Pegau, Maclura, 2019, a red blend of Grenache noir, Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault — my personal favorite, though both wines were delicious.

The culinary showstopper was the artful presentation of the main course, Ssam,  a cornucopia of Duck Breast and Prime Beef Ribeye with Roasted Garlic, Ssamjang and Seasonal Greens. A side dish of Panchan, Corn and Tomato with Chayote and Kimchi, rounded out the meal. Diners created their own personalized combinations of ingredients meant to be layered into unique lettuce wraps with a wide variety of flavors and textures in each bite, and meat so delicate that it seemed to melt in your mouth. Another marvelous wine complemented the savory flavors, this time the AOC Côtes du Rhône Villages Plan de Dieu, Domaine Lucien Tramier, 2020, a blend of Grenache noir and Syrah.

Almost too striking a design to eat, the dessert was Mangonada Bingsu, Peach Chamoy with Coconut Ice and Mango-Tamarind Candy Straws. Each course offered layers of unusual flavors and colors, incorporating a dazzling display of culinary creativity.

After such a spectacular dinner, the two chefs were asked to come out for a well-deserved round of applause. But, rather than simply basking in the accolades themselves, they invited the entire kitchen staff to join them as the delighted diners applauded enthusiastically. Perhaps the difficulties brought on by the pandemic have helped make restaurant patrons and the community in general much more aware of the need for all the essential workers behind the scenes throughout the restaurant community, including those in “the back of the house.”

Proceeds from the Taste America dinner series go directly to the chefs involved to support their local businesses, as well as to other national James Beard Foundation programs.

The JBF Open for Good campaign provided critical resources to help independent restaurants survive the pandemic crisis, rebuild their businesses and thrive in the long term. It has evolved into Good Food for Good. Also, the Legacy Network Program pairs experienced industry professionals as mentors for emerging chefs to advance “the equitable, culturally relevant leadership required to strengthen the industry.” Started just last year, the program selected Danielle Holmes, chef at Rose’s Luxury on Capitol Hill, as one of 12 advisees across the country.

One of the purposes of the Taste America dinner series is to raise awareness and encourage support of local independent restaurants. The dinner at Anju was an unusual opportunity to eat something amazingly good, while doing something good for a local, independent business. Another great opportunity to do that is Washington’s Restaurant Week, which will run Monday, Aug. 15, through Sunday, Aug. 21. 

Donna Christenson is Founder and Editor of DCdigest.com.

The culinary showstopper was the artful presentation of the main course, Ssam, which was Duck Breast and Prime Beef Ribeye with Roasted Garlic, Ssamjang and Seasonal Greens. Photo by Donna Christenson.


Daphne Payan is with Inter Rhone, a professional association bringing together the wine-growers and wine merchants of the Rhône Valley in France. It provided the Côtes du Rhône wines for the James Beard Foundation dinner. Photo by Donna Christenson.


Anju Executive Chef Angel Barreto (far right) and guest chef Anna Castro of Lengua Madre in New Orleans (third from right) lead the diners in applauding the entire “back of the house” restaurant support staff. Photo by Donna Christenson.


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