Food Innovator Awards

It’s been a crazy week, the sort of week that makes a pregnant woman need to sleep for a week to recover. But I wouldn’t trade one minute of it (OK, I would totally trade the minutes spent scrubbing the bathtub in the house we moved out of, but I digress).

We moved from the Mount Vernon area of Alexandria to Bailey’s Crossroads with the help of many wonderful friends who selflessly helped us pack, lift, Uhaul and organize our new life. With boxes still packed, I launched into a busy workweek that ended with a visit from good friends and (perhaps a little too much) good food. The best part? I didn’t have to cook it. More about the visit from friends in the next post. For now, a highlight from last week… 

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I had the pleasure of attending the U.S. Healthful Food Council‘s Food Innovators Gala on Thursday night, where food pioneers like NYU Professor Dr. Marion Nestle and Honest Tea Co-founder Seth Goldman were honored for their contributions. This dinner event at the beautiful Whittemore House in D.C. was sold out with more than 200 attendees from D.C.’s food world and beyond. The video below provides more information about the Food Council and the new REAL food certification program it has launched to recognize restaurants nationwide for applying nutrition and sustainability best practices.

The evening opened up with an on-screen appearance from Buck Marshall, the star in Chipotle’s new farcical series Farmed and Dangerous. Chipotle’s CEOs were recognized later in the evening for the company’s unique food marketing approach, which has spawned some controversial (in conventional ag communities) ads and educational events.

Honest Tea’s Goldman, the Bethesda-based recipient of the beverage innovator award, rapped in this “rethink what you drink” video to kick off his acceptance speech. Then dinner was served.

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Chef Sam Talbot, a type 1 diabetic and contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef, served up mostly vegan dishes that left our table wondering what fat made these vegetables so delicious (coconut oil? sesame oil?). The meal was served family style as an homage to the “death of the family meal” nationwide, which has contributed to the country’s obesity issues.

Heaping platters of broccoli, cauliflower, turnips and celery root had me hardly missing the meat (although I very much missed the wine everyone else was drinking). Then some proteins arrived. Thankfully someone at our table works with D.C. chef Ris Lacoste and was able to explain that it’s not unusual for organic chicken thighs to appear somewhat pink in the middle, even when fully cooked. How foreign real food has become to us!

Chef Sam also educated the audience on the dogfish that was served after, I later learned, soaking in milk or other liquids to remove its natural ammonia scent. The dogfish is invasive to many parts of the East Coast (though, in the Chesapeake Bay, blue catfish is the invasive species of choice) and fishermen are encouraged to catch as much of it as they can in some parts. Dessert capped off probably the healthiest banquet dinner I’ve ever attended — a raw vegan cake with coconut creme and tart raspberry syrup.

During dinner, Robert Egger, founder of DC Central Kitchen and LA Kitchen, accepted the food access award for his work to rehabilitate D.C.’s incarcerated with job skills. He recently moved to LA to apply similar concepts to help the city’s senior population, which he said is the next frontier of improving healthful food access in this country.

NYC’s Dr. Marion Nestle accepted an award for nutrition awareness and disease prevention and took the opportunity to rally the troops in what she calls a battle against the Farm Bill and fat- and sugar-laden foods.

“If I had one thing to teach the American public, it is that larger portions have more calories,” she said with only a hint of irony, citing a study of her own students at NYU that found them fairly clueless on the caloric content of a 64-oz. bottle of soda.

Other award winners included the president of D.C.’s Environmental Working Group, Ken Cook; the CEO of Applegate Farms and Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of soda-banning fame of New York City (who were not able to attend).

USHFC chairman & CEO Lawrence Williams closed the evening with a surprise video of Larry King congratulating the award recipients. The event was a stellar gathering of Washington’s who’s who in food. And I must give props to the woman who invited me and seamlessly organized the shindig: Elizabeth Bennett. Bravo!

Cheers,
W

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