- The Washington Times - Monday, March 28, 2005

It was a clash of culinary titans as chefs Roberto Donna of Galileo and Todd Gray of Equinox battled it out at Share Our Strength’s 18th annual Taste of the Nation “Destination D.C.” Thursday night.

A cooking competition between the roly-poly Mr. Donna and the Cheshire-cat grinning Mr. Gray was the main event at the Marriott Wardman Park, where guests paid $75 (or $200 for extra-special VIP treats) to test their taste buds on offerings from 50 local restaurants and 25 wineries. The benefit aids the Capital Area Food Bank, Community Family Life Services and Food and Friends.

The boisterous Mr. Donna set the tone for the contest as he whirled around the stage like a youngster on roller skates, giving a mock head butt to his balding competitor before the rules of play were announced: Each chef, it turned out, would have 10 ingredients, one assistant and 30 minutes to whip up a concoction that was both palatable and creative. They had to use at least eight of the ingredients, which included spinach, bacon, saffron, basil, ginger and chicken.

“Do we get any points for using all 10 ingredients?” asked Mr. Donna, who couldn’t resist sidling over to the Equinox side of the stage to bother his much-quieter opponent.

“We’re not going to use the ginger,” Mr. Gray soon announced. “I am going to throw it at Roberto.”

But it didn’t matter. Mr. Donna was soon victorious after a panel of four judges picked from the audience split the vote and the tie was broken by the master of ceremonies, TV food authority David Rosengarten.

“I’d better get paid extra for this,” Mr. Rosengarten bellowed, madly forking into each chef’s preparation after heckling them (“Roberto, remember you have to put the dishes on a plate when you’re done.”) throughout their ordeal.

Several participating restaurateurs agreed that the celebrity chefs’ presence helped raise awareness of the continuing problem of hunger among poor and homeless citizens. Share Our Strength, they pointed out, helps spread the word that 35 million people live below the poverty line and 13 million children risk going hungry each year.

Others noted that chefs everywhere can play an important role.

“What the public doesn’t understand is the amount of food that gets thrown out,” said Michael Patrick Roll, chef of The Ritz Carlton Pentagon City. “Most of the time we can’t save prepared dishes for safety reasons, so that’s where it’s important to act responsibly and not prepare with three times the food we’re going to need.”

Amanda Pike, a nutrition advocate for the Capital Area Food Bank, was pleased so many local chefs were helping her organization by going into poor communities to talk about nutrition, budgeting and safety. She had no words of reproof, however, as hungry benefactors circled the food stations for second and third helpings of high calorie, carb-rich dishes.

“It’s OK every once in a while,” Mrs. Pike said with a smile. “Tonight,” she added, “is a special occasion.”

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