- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2007

New Year’s resolutions to lose weight were tossed aside Sunday night at the James Beard Foundation’s Chefs’ Benefit as diners enjoyed a seven-course feast prepared by seven of Washington’s top culinary masters. The $250-a-pop event drew 76 foodies to Le Paradou, the award-winning restaurant in the Penn Quarter run by chef Yannick Cam, who hosted the event.

“I had the opportunity to serve James Beard at the Four Seasons in New York,” Mr. Cam recalled. “He was a good friend of Julia Child’s and had the same enthusiasm for food.” (After Mr. Beard’s death in 1985, Mrs. Child helped preserve the culinary expert’s Greenwich Village home as a gathering place and start an organization in his name.)

“We have a clear mission to celebrate and nurture the culinary arts in America,” Beard Foundation representative Phyllis Isaacson said during cocktails. Proceeds from Sunday’s benefit, she explained, would help fund scholarships sponsored by the foundation, which is best known for annual awards that are considered the Oscars of the food industry.

Before dinner was served, clued-in gastronomes discussed the major scandal that once threatened to destroy the foundation. In 2005, its former president, Leonard F. Pickell Jr., was sentenced to one to three years in prison for stealing $1.1 million from the nonprofit organization. “The foundation is much stronger financially and more professional now,” Ms. Isaacson assured several inquiring guests.

While guests assembled in the bar for champagne and exquisite canapes (foie gras tartlettes, shiitake mushroom galettes, roasted shrimp), the chefs were readying their mostly meat-focused dishes in the kitchen. Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve said his first-course creation, a terrine of Moulard duck foie gras and sauternes-poached pear and sauternes glace, was a “good luxury item.” Though unpopular among Chicago city council members, who voted last year to outlaw the sale of the fatty duck liver, it was well-received, along with the accompanying Chateau Haut Bergeron 2002 Sauternes, by those packed into Le Paradou’s main dining room, decorated with towering arrangements of roses and curly willow.

Next on the menu was red-wine-braised rabbit, poppyseed-fennel agnolotti, wild mushrooms and Berkshire bacon from chef Robert Weland of Poste Moderne Brasserie. Terence Feury of Fahrenheit, who said he was too young to remember Mr. Beard, said the secret to his third course, a tasty wild striped bass, was wrapping the fish in pork fat to “keep it nice and juicy.” Mr. Cam followed with quail stuffed with porcini mushrooms, pistachios, and chestnut gnocchi, a highlight of his regular restaurant menu. He and sommelier Nicolas Mandot, fresh from Taillevent in Paris, chose complementary wines for each course.

Absent from the kitchen was Robert Wiedmaier, whose Swiss-chard-stuffed lamb tenderloin was nevertheless well prepared by Paul Stearman, his sous chef at Marcel’s. “It’s my favorite,” said Rachel Hayden, the marketing manager of the Inn at Little Washington and a self-confessed foodie.

The meat kept coming, ending with prime short rib over root risotto, courtesy of Jonathan Krinn of 2941. “All the chefs thought they were making the main course,” artist Yankel Ginzburg noted.

The meal ended with “Uptown S’Mores” from pastry chef Heather Chittum of Notti Bianche. “It’s a play on a childhood favorite,” Miss Chittum said of her marshmallow-topped chocolate boxes. Following her dessert, all seven chefs filed into the dining room to applause for their creations. Goody bags filled with chocolates, madeleines and brioche ensured dieting resolutions would be once again postponed.

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