WASHINGTON — Some of Washington’s top chefs came together to salute the president ahead of the inauguration, in part because of the first family’s influence on the culture around food.
Chicago-based chef Art Smith opened his Capitol Hill restaurant Art and Soul for a late-night Chefs Ball, which was expected to attract food fans of all stripes Saturday night with its relatively low ticket price of $75. Seven celebrity chefs teamed up for the charity event to prepare bites for a sold-out crowd of more than 500.
From the White House garden to Michelle Obama’s focus on healthy eating, Smith said the Obamas, more than any other first family, have embraced fresh American food and care about where food comes from.
“Can that little garden at the White House feed America? No. But you know what it can do? It can inspire America,” Smith said. “Most importantly, it’s that we as Americans all deserve good food, regardless of economic, social differences.”
Mike Isabella, restaurant owner and former “Top Chef” contestant, said he was new to Washington four years ago and that the city’s food scene has come of age in the Obama era. He plans to open another restaurant later this year.
“I think D.C. is probably one of the biggest and fastest-growing culinary scenes in America,” Isabella said. “It was a steakhouse town 10 years ago. Nowadays, it’s all about living in the city and being a part of the growth.”
In the past 20 years, tastes have changed. As first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton embraced American cooking, and Laura Bush brought Tex-Mex to the White House, Smith said. The Obamas have gone a step further to foster more conversation about fresh ingredients.
Isabella, who joined Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s inaugural American Chefs Corps last year to use food as a tool for diplomacy, credits the Obama administration with changing attitudes around food.
“I think they’re the first to really indulge into the whole culinary scene, putting chef programs together for schools and kids, dining in restaurants around the city and really believing in food and farm-to-table,” he said. “It’s been a huge, huge help for us.”