Saturday, October 12, 2013

Fashionistas and Foodies Fundraise For Literacy

On September 6th, 2013, fashionistas and foodies gathered together at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel as the fashion and culinary worlds merged to create one beautiful display of  confectionery work. Hosted by the Heart of America Foundation, a national non-profit that uniquely promotes volunteering and literacy, Charity in Chocolate  raises funds to provide books to local children who have little or nothing to read at home by offering guests an evenings of delicious creations from over 50 area restaurants, the chance to win one-of-a-kind experiences in their raffle, and a not-to miss fashion show that could quite actually be a lost episode of The Food Network's Challenge. 13 pastry chefs/chocolatiers competed to win "Best Chocolate Fashion Costume", designing costumes inspired by literally characters, with the only requirement being everything must be made of sugar. Chefs were inspired by literary characters from all time periods, as everyone from Juliet to Katniss Everdeen were represented on stage.

Before the amazing talent of 13 area pastry chefs was displayed on the runway, guests sampled both savory and sweet dishes from over 50 area restaurants. Many of these restaurants offered multiple dishes to the guests, which means well over 100 dishes were available for guests to sample. Although this event occurred over a month ago, I still had chocolate from the event in my pantry up until the beginning of this week, thanks to Baci by Perugina (more on their chocolates later). There was so much on display at Charity in Chocolate that I used three cameras to document everything that evening, but unfortunately I couldn't fit all 300 of my photos in to this blog post, though I tried. 

After walking down the red carpet entrance, we were first greeted with Georgetown Cupcakes and multiple treats from the Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner, who offered guests an Apple Streusel Mousse, Orange Coffee Macarons, and Sago Pudding with Ube Coconut. My favorite treat was definitely the Apple Streusel, as it was almost as if I was drinking apple pie!

As we made our way down the aisles, it was difficult deciding which room to turn in to next, but we eventually found our way to churros and chocolate from La Tasca, Juniper's fruit bread topped with rooftop honey, walnut vinaigrette and impatiens petals, salvadorian style bread pudding with marshmallows and bourbon chocolate from Maple Ave. Restaurant, and passionfruit mouse topped with cream mint and chocolate from Chima Steakhouse

We're all familiar with cake pops, but brownie pops exist too! These brownie pops with raspberry filling, created by the now closed Azur (stay turned for Menu opening soon) were delicious and super convenient to carry around the packed venue. 

Though most restaurants offered selections heavy in rich, creamy chocolate, Alchemy by Carla Hall added a welcomed mix of cookies that were low in chocolate and high in delciousness. 

Though chocolate was in abundance throughout the venue, our next stop was the designated "Chocolate Lounge." Chocolate free items could not be found in this room. Black's Bar and Kitchen served a cayenne sea salt chocolate mousse cake, Pearl Dive Oyster Palace hand crafted bacon caramel cups, and 8407 Kitchen Bar offered guests a chocolate coffee, almond toffee cheesecake, as well as cups of chocolate creameux, salted caramel, and bananas with sesame crumble and chocolate pearls.

Though I was impressed by the variety of ways restaurants chose to highlight chocolate, sometimes all you need is a small piece of fine chocolate.

Chef Geoff's brought along so many pieces of chocolate that if I didn't know better, I would have thought they were a chocolate shop!

Adjacent to the Chocolate Lounge was a room dedicated to "Italian Art and Culture." 

Graffiato served a kumquat smoked port loin crostini, which was topped with a sprinkling of chocolate, and Sapore used their signature oils and vinegar to bake a dark chocolate balsamic olive oil cake with fresh strawberries.

Cafe Milano wins the award for the largest display of treats. If you are looking for a catering or private dining menu that will wow guests during dessert (in addition to lunch or dinner), you'll definitely want to give Cafe Milano a call.

Also on display in the Italian Arts and Culture room were chocolates from Baci by Perugina, the exclusive sponsor of Charity in Chocolate.  Baci chocolates envelope whipped chocolate filling blended with finely chopped hazelnuts, then topped with a whole hazelnut, in silky dark or white chocolate. Shortly after the event, Baci sent us a a box of their dark chocolate Baci confections, bag of their white chocolate confections, and a few flavors of their bars, including Milk Chocolate Almond, Cappuccino, and Luisa (dark chocolate). Though Baci means "kisses" in Italian and Baci chocolates are about sharing a special message of love, at times I regretted sharing these Baci chocolates, as just when I was craving a piece of the cappuccino or milk chocolate almond bar, I discovered their was none left. Ultimately though, I am glad I was able to spread messages of love to my friends through  something as small as a piece of Baci chocolate.

An hour in to my descent in to all things chocolate, I realized it was about time to sample some food that does not fall in to the dessert category. Omni Hotels served octopus capaccio with marcona almonds and sunac vinaigrette, as well as waygu beef belly with huckleberry jam. EDGAR Bar and Kitchen offered guests a nice light sample of a lamb pita with Greek yogurt and and micro mint, Jack Rose Dining Saloon cooked 48 hour pork belly to enjoy with chocolate caramel sauce and peach puree,  and ICI Urban Bistro glazed tuna for the hungry masses. The now open Newton's Noodles (but soon to be open during the actual event) gave us a sneak peak at some of their signature offerings. 

Proving that chocolate really does make everything better, BRABO topped chicken liver parfait with a cocoa nibble crust.

Black Market Bistro and Taco Bamba  delighted vegetarians with their Vegetable Strudels and Spicy 'Shroom Tacos. The Vegetable Strudels were filled with spinach, eggplant, red onion and sun-dried tomatoes and finished with arugula and basil pesto while the tacos were filled with chipotle, portobello, queso, hearts of palm, and pepitas.

I could have camped out at the Rappahannock Oyster Company table all night. Oysters are actually my favorite form of dessert, as the fresh taste of the oysters makes me forget about all the other food I consumed, and I make myself believe I had a healthy meal that night. Well I did have a very well-balanced "meal" that night, as I enjoyed some chipotle steak on plantains w/mole from the Fourth Estate at the National Press Club, unagi eel w/ roasted peanut teriyaki infused chocolate sauce from OYA,  and scallops from Nick's Riverside Grill.

Event host Mandarin Oriental ensured guests' needs for both savory and sweet tastes were met by cooking Korean short rib tacos and baking green tea pistachio cake.

After two hours of sampling delectable delights from some of the area's finest restaurants (half of whom haven't even been mentioned), it was time for the Fashion Show to begin! 10 area chefs and 3 visiting chefs turned the fashion of their favorite literary characters in to amazing works of confectionery design. 

1789's Ryan Westover turned Little Red Riding Hood rocker chic. 

L'Acamemie de Cuisine's Katie Delaney recreated Katniss Everdeen's Fire Red Dress, and her model showed just as much charm as Jennifer Lawrence.

Steven Sechoka of The Ritz-Carlton, Pentagon City took things back to how they all began by styling his model like Eve.

Co Co. Sala's Katie Musser drew inspiration from Titania, the Fairy Queen of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Ann Brown of Miriam's Kitchen brought Anna Hibiscus straight off the pages of her self-titled early chapter books to the Charity in Chocolate runway, Shaun McCarty of Rasika West End presented his beautiful interpretation of Poison Ivy, and ICI Urban Bistro's Vincent Bitauld replicated Queen Amidala's signature dress quite accurately.

The story of Romeo and Juliet has been told countless times over the years, with constant changes in time period, location, and fashion, but this may be the first time the story was represented through sugary confections. The Art Institute of Washington's Carlo Figarella had Juliet meeting her Romeo in a lovely two-piece. Vanessa Greeley of Vanessa's Cake Designs had the ugly ducking turning into a swan like you've never seen before and Kate Baltren, Diana Hernandes, and Jenelle Farnan of Something Sweet Bakery had the Mad Hatter looking more fashionable than ever.

2941's Caitlin Dysart designed a dress fit for a Snow Queen, Dulce Bella's Carolina Lara brought both Pocahontas  and Grandmother Willow to the runway, and Sweet Prosperity Bakery's Thierry Aujard turned his daughter into a lovely Blue Fairy. I wonder if she made all her toys come to life that night...

The five judges had a difficult task determining which one chef was most worthy of the "Best Chocolate Fashion Costume" award, but Caitlin Dysart's dress fit for a Snow Queen ultimately made the biggest impression on the judges. Congrats Caitlin!

Food and fashion continue to make the event memorable year after year, but the real stars of the event are the individuals that put countless effort into improving the lives of children in need. This year special recognition was given to Ambassador Peter Teeley and Dr. Marta Palacios. Marta even had the chance to walk the runway like a fashion model, though the focus was on the great work that Peter and Marta have achieved. Peter Telley, Founder and Chairman of the Children's Charities Foundation, was awarded the National Hero of the Heart Award for his work launching what is now the BB&T Classic, an annual college basketball tournament held at the Verizon Center each December to raise funds for CCF, and Dr. Marta Palacios, Principal at Bruce-Monoe Elementary School, was awarded the Principal of the Year Award for her work strengthening the bond between school and home. A few standout programs she has initiated include a Saturday Academy program for students and Family Nights, which promote home instruction to boost literacy, math, and science comprehension. To join Peter and Marta in helping children read, succeed, and make a difference, visit the Heart of America Foundation website to learn about opportunities to donate, volunteer, hold a book drive, or nominate a student for an award or scholarship.

Also, make sure to like Charity in Chocolate on Facebook and follow HOA_Chocolate on Twitter to be the first to know about next year's event. It's not to be missed!

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