- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 1, 2007

It’s a novel way to host a dinner party: Set up a real-life ethnic food market at the reception and then offer no fewer than 12 wines and three main courses at dinner in addition to two starters and three desserts.

Such was the culinary explosion on display Monday at the Massachusetts Avenue residence of Chilean Ambassador Mariano Fernandez. He invited a leading chef from Chile, Guillermo Rodriguez, to design a knockout menu to impress special guests and local members of the food and beverage industry.

The goal, of course, was to promote homegrown products in dramatic fashion. Hence the festive aprons reading “Chilean Food Market,” worn by embassy staffers, including Economic Counselor Rolando Ortega, and food handlers such as Xavier Equihua, chief executive of the Chilean Avocado Importers Association. Mr. Equihua was all too happy to report that “Chile is the second-largest importer of avocado into the U.S.”

Talk about one-upmanship: Chile claims to be among the top three food exporters in the world and boasts of non-polluted seawater. Who would have thought? Getting one’s mind and throat around some top Chilean wines was a wish that on-site winery representatives were glad to oblige.

It’s not an everyday occasion, either, when the cocktail of the hour is a pisco concoction — pisco being an alcoholic beverage made from grapes that is Chile’s national drink, especially when mixed with cola. Nor when several dozen guests talk shop in front of real produce stands containing treats such as pancake-size slabs of giant calamari, fresh meats, cheeses, berries, mussels, olive oils and, yes, chili powder as well as a papaya called carica and the cherimoya fruit.

“Like all cuisines in Latin America, ours is a combination of mestizo, or old Spanish, native Indian, and the food introduced by immigrants,” Mr. Fernandez explained during a quick checkup trip to the kitchen. Good diplomat that he is, he had his line down pat for an appreciative audience. “I remember years ago when you visited this sort of market, you would get your papaya, your mussels or your salmon and you would go to someone and say, ‘Can you cook it?’ ” then and there. Times may have changed, he implied, but not the taste.

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