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The End of Rubber Chicken?

Master chef Philippe Chin, by the antipasto-charcuterie station at Thursday's soiree in the Washington Convention Center kitchen. (photos by Bonnie Benwick -- The Washington Post)

Folks associated with the Walter E. Washington Convention Center certainly know how to throw a party, so yesterday's fete of its newly installed executive chef, Philippe Chin, shouldn't have been surprising. Yet it was to this reporter, because it was held in the center's main kitchen, decked out with rows of red carpet, three ice sculptures, sculpted fruit trees (as in, trees composed of skewered fruit), red-, white- and blue-colored dry ice wafting out of 300-gallon soup pots, an opaque bar, tempura moving straight from wok-fryer to plates, caramel and raspberry sauce fountains, caviar and some serious raw-bar footage, a mega-espresso machine, a gelato cart, comfortable lounge seating and at least 10 stations featuring different food groups: artisan breads and cheeses, a microgreen salad bar and a risotto station....

Sushi boats and bridges, courtesy of Sushi USA in Gaithersburg.

I mentioned this was all in in the kitchen, yes? About 150 of the city's meeting planners and various movers and shakers showed up to meet Chin, one of the world's trained master chefs, and see what's in store when they book events in the sprawling facility. Chin and his staff have been planning for the event since he hit town two weeks ago; the food took three days of prep.

What seems like an extravagant move on the part of Centerplate, the mega-hospitality company that recruited and hired Chin after a several-month search, is considered more of a gauntlet now thrown down in this, our nation's capital: "We want to be No. 1, and we want Washington to have the best food in the world," said Desmond Hague, Centerplate's president and chief exec. Greg O'Dell, who oversees the convention center, is looking forward to all the culinary innovation Chin will bring to Washington parties.

The kitchen at party time.

Although Chin (read his bio here) has cooked for a group of 5,000 before, he's been used to numbers closer to 300 -- and not all at once. Yet the prospect of catering to 10,000 or more doesn't faze him: "You have to be organized. I will use the same classic cooking techniques I always rely on," he says. He will soon start refresher courses for his team, which includes four executive sous-chefs, two sous-chefs and 60 staff.

The chef promises to source as many local ingredients as he can: "I will do all in my power. I'm a big believer in the farm." Chin also appears to be a master at ceremony, giving interviews easily, cracking wise with a heavy French accent and perhaps a hint of Gaulois on his breath (or something smoked).

And as for those disappointing entrees that get plunked on the tables at so many large-scale events? Not in the cards for Chin. "I won't do baked Alaska; in fact, I may not do ice cream at all. It could be a nightmare. I won't do thin pieces of chicken, or chicken that cannot stay moist and juicy."

Remember his promise, future conventioneers, and report your findings to All We Can Eat.

-- Bonnie Benwick

By The Food Section  |  June 26, 2009; 10:30 AM ET
 | Tags: Bonnie Benwick, conventions  
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Here's hoping he lives up to his promise. I was at an event in the Convention Center at the beginning of the month, and the food was terrible.

We started with a salad that won points for presentation and then proceeded to lose all of those points and then some with its mealy, bland flavors.

Our entree was meat. I'd be more specific, but the dish really didn't allow it. It was a gray (I think...kinda dark in there) cut of boneless beef - maybe the loin? - that was soft enough to be cut with a standard-issue butter knife. Covered in a vaguely winey sauce and accompanied by limp veggies and bland potatoes, it was everything you fear when you think about reception food.

Here's hoping the new regime turns things around in short order.

Posted by: JoeHoya | June 29, 2009 9:07 AM | Report abuse

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