Even celebrated chefs can be strong-armed by other celebrated chefs.
When legendary chef Alice Waters called D.C.’s equally legendary Joan Nathan prior to the 2009 Inaugural festivities to propose a fundraiser that would benefit local organizations that provide critical services to the hungry in Washington, Nathan’s answer was unequivocal.
“When Alice calls,” says Nathan, the cookbook author and television host known for her exploration of Jewish cuisine, “you don’t say no. But I would have said yes anyway.” Working with Waters, who spurred the organic foods revolution more than 40 years ago at her Berkeley, Calif., restaurant Chez Panisse, Nathan, along with D.C.’s own José Andrés, is co-hosting the eighth annual Sips & Suppers, taking place this weekend: Saturday, Jan. 23 at the Newseum and Sunday, Jan. 24 at private homes across the area to benefit Martha’s Table and D.C. Central Kitchen.
While there are a lot of fundraisers on any given day in D.C., Sips & Suppers offers an opportunity to participate in something that has an enormous impact on the community, according to Mike Curtain, CEO of D.C. Central Kitchen, which dishes out 5,000 free meals daily to local homeless shelters, transitional homes and nonprofit organizations, as well as another 4,300 school meals each day to low-income D.C. schoolchildren. “This is the power of food,” Curtain says. “The humanity we share is so much more powerful than what separates us.”
For many people who once benefited from fresh hot meals prepared by the staff and volunteers of Central Kitchen, its Culinary Job Training Program is the next step toward independence. Since 1990, nearly 1,400 students have come through the 14-week program, which also provides internships and job placement in the community. Speaking to a group of visitors in early January, Earl, a graduate of the program who now works at D.C. Central Kitchen, spent 13 years in prison — seven of them working in the prison bakery — and found out about the training program through a job fair after he was released.
“I love my job,” he says, “and I can honestly say that I appreciate my time incarcerated because it got me to where I am now.”
Martha’s Table, which has been operating out of a storefront on the 14th Street corridor near Logan Circle for 35 years, was originally founded by Dr. Veronica Maz and Father Horace McKenna to provide a safe haven and healthy meals for local children. The program has expanded over the years to include McKenna’s Wagon, which distributes hot meals and sandwiches to the homeless every day at three locations across the city, and Joyful Markets, bringing fresh and healthy food to 12 schools in wards 7 and 8, where families can fill grocery bags with 23 pounds of food per enrolled child to take home. Working with the Capital Area Food Bank, the goal is to have these monthly markets at every public and charter school in those wards, for a total of 44 markets.
“One in three children in D.C. are food insecure,” says Patty Stonesipher, president and CEO of Martha’s Table, “and one in two east of the (Anacostia) river. Most hunger is happening in apartments, homes and households.” She welcomes the opportunity to work with local organizations to combat hunger, saying, “Collaboration is the new competition in the nonprofit world.”
With $600,000 raised at last year’s event, Sips & Suppers will have a big impact on the programs offered by Central Kitchen and Martha’s Table. The Sips event on Jan. 23 features craft cocktails and tasty bites, from charcuterie to macarons, from some of D.C.’s best bars and restaurants, including Buffalo & Bergen, Ghibellina, Mango Tree, Red Apron, SER, and Tabard Inn, all served at the Newseum at $125 per person.
The Suppers, which provide an opportunity to get more up close and personal with some of the best chefs from both D.C. and around the country, are a more intimate affair hosted in private homes.
At $600 per ticket (or $5,000 for a meal prepared by Alice Waters herself), these dinners welcome just 20 diners each, providing for a truly welcoming experience. Chef Ris Lacoste, whose dinner with Vidalia chef Jeff Buben is already sold out, says, “My favorite way of eating is in the love and comfort of someone’s home.”
A few tickets are still available for some of the dinners being prepared by some of D.C.’s favorite chefs, including those being prepared by Carla Hall and Mike Isabella, who both rose to national prominence as contestants on “Top Chef,” and Marjorie Meek-Bradley, who is now featured on the current season of “Top Chef.”
For more information, check out sipsandsuppers.org.
Kristen Hartke is a D.C.-based food and beverage. Follow her kitchen adventures on Twitter, @khartke.