The second of two articles about one of DC’s major culinary fundraising events, Sips & Suppers. Proceeds benefit Martha’s Table and DC Central Kitchen, two of the area’s largest organizations fighting hunger in the nation’s capital. The brainchild of pioneer chef/author/restaurateur Alice Waters, joined by co-hosts, DC’s own famed chef/restaurateur José Andres and Jewish food author/doyenne Joan Nathan, the 2014 weekend of events broke attendance and fundraising records with over 1,600 guests contributing nearly $500,000. Read last week’s story to find out more about Sips, an evening of food, wine and spirits at the Newseum.

Chefs Matt Baker (l) and Cedric Maupillier with host Laurie Moskowitz

Chefs Matt Baker (l) and Cedric Maupillier with host Laurie Moskowitz

When more than 650 guests gathered in 33 homes and restaurants across the DC area one cold Sunday evening in January, they knew they were in for outstanding meals lovingly prepared by top chefs in intimate settings. They also knew they were helping to feed the neediest in the local community.

For some participants, the meal was even more highly anticipated because they were attending one of two kosher suppers. “We originally got involved three years ago when Joan Nathan asked us to host a kosher dinner,” said Laurie Moskowitz, who co-hosted year with husband Steve Rabinowitz. “I love good food and the ability to eat everything because it’s kosher is really exciting.”

Guests were welcomed with a drink of pomegranate juice and champagne poured over candied hearts in the glass

Guests were welcomed with a drink of pomegranate juice and champagne poured over candied hearts in the glass

As guests arrived, they were welcomed by appetizers of brilliant roasted beets and coffee pineapple confit served on individual spoons, rich chopped chicken liver crostini crowned with pickled Jerusalem artichoke and micro chives plus perfect bite-sized spinach knish with fresh horseradish.

The sit-down dinner featured many traditional elements of Jewish food, but with innovative and creative twists.  A composition of winter vegetables was served with a warm “schmaltz” vinaigrette. Silver hake was crusted with red sauerkraut, and the braised beef short rib seemed like a modern take on a deconstructed mushroom barley soup on a plate. Slow-braised at a constant temperature for five hours in vacuum shrink bags, the meat was served with confit ginger, toasted barley, pickled shallot and a mushroom consommé (see complete menu below).

In charge of the kitchen at Laurie and Steve’s was Matt Baker, Chef de Cuisine at Occidental Grill & Seafood, and Cedric Maupillier, chef and owner of Mintwood Place. Neither of them is Jewish, so what was it like to prepare a kosher meal for the first time in such an intimate setting?

To start with, Laurie explained, “it was great to see what they came up with that was new and seasonal as well as some Jewish influences.”

Chopped chicken liver crostini appetizer with its crown of  pickled Jerusalem artichoke and micro chives

Chopped chicken liver crostini appetizer with its crown of pickled Jerusalem artichoke and micro chives

Chef Cedric found the biggest challenge came the day before the supper, Saturday, when he tried to shop at a kosher grocery store which was, of course, closed, explaining why the parking lot was unexpectedly empty. The rest, he says, “wasn’t difficult as long as you respect the rules.” For him and Chef Baker, this meant the costly purchase of new equipment to use for the first time including molds, knives and bowls as well as “asking a lot of questions to be sure. It didn’t limit my cooking, just worried me a lot!” he confessed.

Initially concerned that the kosher rules would be restrictive, Cheff Matt found as he read and researched that instead kosher resonated with his style…aside from no cream or butter with the meat meal, of course. That style is American based on traditional methods and modern plating, plus having some fun with the food.

“I’ve built my cooking around how many ways I can introduce layers of flavors into a dish,” he said. He likes to highlight seasonal and local while showcasing unique tastes and textures. The Asian influences in the mushroom consommé were not surprising considering Matt spent time working in Singapore and eating his way through parts of Asia. In addition to the mushrooms, the ingredients included Chinese black vinegar, sesame oil, rice wine, rice vinegar, white soy sauce, regular soy sauce, fresh cilantro and star anise.

And then there’s the warm schmaltz vinaigrette. It made sense in terms of flavor as well as connecting the dish to the kosher theme of the meal, Chef Matt explained, “I think from a cooking perspective the biggest thing I took away from this experience would have to be schmaltz…my new favorite ingredient!”

Beef short rib in vacuum shrink bags ready for plating

Beef short rib in vacuum shrink bags ready for plating

For chefs, hosts and guests, the dinner was a deliciously memorable experience. “It allowed me to challenge myself out of my comfort zone for a very worthy cause,” said Chef Matt.

Laurie emphasized the pleasure she and Steve get out of hosting every year. “The two organizations are doing very innovative work. We are big supporters, and this is a great was to show our support as well as using our networks to invite people to share the cause and the amazing meal.”

Chef Cedric summed up the Supper saying, “I certainly felt an unusual warm and relaxed atmosphere. The hosts and guests were all very concerned about the meaning of the event. The entire house was absorbed in a very generous spirit.”