- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2008

With so many savories and treats on offer from 60 top local restaurants, who would have guessed pork bellies would be the primo palate pleaser at this year’s Share Our Strength Taste of the Nation extravaganza?

Few of the famished foodies could have missed tasting clever concoctions of the traditional dish as they wandered the Washington Hilton’s giant ballroom searching for taste sensations Monday night. After all, three major chefs were preparing the same dish front and center, albeit with their own creative twists.

Vidalia’s R.J. Cooper III and his staff manned Station A, handing out molasses-flavored pork belly (with pickled onion on a bed of toasted cornmeal polenta) assembly-line style to enthusiastic eaters, and never mind the greedy gourmands gobbling two or three.

Over at Station B, Matt Hill, executive chef of Charlie Palmer Steak, touted the considerable virtues of his PB/BLT, one that drew raves from domestic and foreign tasters alike. (“Pas mal de tout,” a rather grande French dame pronounced as she waddled off.)

Quel embarrass de richesse. Especially if Madame survived to sample Mendocino Grille’s Rice Crispy-crusted Berkshire pork belly with ginger slaw over at Station A.

“I’ll put ours up against Vidalia’s and Charlie Palmer’s any day,” Mendocino’s chef, Barry Koslow, said, threatening to “challenge R.J. to a duel” as he thrust his saber — er, paring knife — toward a morsel of succulent meat.

By 9 p.m., the event was jammed as the thousand-plus guests headed toward dessert, coffee and cordials areas and bid on silent auction items donated in support of a most worthy cause: the Capital Area Food Bank and D.C. Hunger Solutions. The only downside: a 30-minute wait in the coat check line (at $3 a pop) and finding out that the nearest pharmacy had a run on simethicone products that night.

Kevin Chaffee

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