- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2003

This year's Gourmet Gala had one item on the menu for which Washingtonians hungered a respite from the drumbeats of war.
The March of Dimes' benefit at the National Building Museum punctured the doom and gloom felt Districtwide and beyond as war with Iraq appeared inevitable Tuesday night.
Credit the assortment of appetizers gobbled by nearly 1,000 guests during the "celebrity chef" competition and the seated dinner that came afterward, or the '70s-era disco and rock pumped out by a trio of bewigged singers.
A smattering of no-shows, including Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, couldn't distract from the giddy food sampling.
Apron-clad members of the House and Senate, many accompanied by their husbands or wives, dished out delicacies ranging from Chug Water Chili (Sen. Michael B. Enzi) to miniature BLTs (Rep. Charles W. Norwood Jr.). Some offerings were cherished family recipes passed down over generations; others were last-minute finds.
Tiny tacos, a favorite at Attorney General John Ashcroft's home, were served by the nation's chief law enforcement officer himself, taking a respite from the war on terrorism.
"I'm a snacker," Mr. Ashcroft said, modestly talking down his creation.
Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones beamed as she described her Southern-style cornbread dressing, passed down from her great-grandmother. She called the delicate concoction comfort food, and what better time for that than as the country prepared for war.
"All day long I've been anxious," the Ohio Democrat said, adding that the event provided "a chance to kick back."
Ever the politicians, the celebrity chefs lobbied guests to sample their treats. When the results were in, Sen. Richard G. Lugar and his wife, Charlene, took home the "best presentation" award for their roasted mushrooms with feta cheese, spinach and bacon; Rep. Joe and Sandy Knollenberg's Michigan cherry salsa won the "health and happiness" award; Sen. John and Lois Breaux's crawfish Louisianne was voted best regional dish, and Rep. John and Betty Ann Tanner's country ham dip won for ease of preparation.
Sen. Carl Levin, who offered baked Michigan brie, has been one of President Bush's fiercest critics. However, the Michigan Democrat, who said he hadn't known his state produced brie until just few days earlier, has toned down his rhetoric in recent days. He predicted that his party would throw its full support behind American troops in the days ahead.
Using force in Iraq was "a democratically arrived-at decision," he said.
District-based Occasions Catering assisted the neophyte chefs with their creations. The catering company took over for the main course, beef tenderloin with a mulberry wine glaze.
The March of Dimes, which funds research to battle birth defects and prematurity, expected to raise $1 million for its programs to decrease the rate of pre-term birth and to increase research to find its cause.
Jennifer House, the group's executive director, played a little politics herself by demurring when asked to reveal her favorite dish.
However, she didn't mince words in describing how her group's mission coincides with the war to disarm the Iraqi regime.
"Taking care of our children is the reason why we engage in global conflicts when we have to. It's preserving our future," she said.
Christian Toto

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