“What is it like to cook with those two amazing chefs?” My friends keep asking that question. The chefs they are referring to in this case are Michael Solomonov and Adam Sobel—both young, incredibly talented and Jewish. As for cooking with them…that’s a bit of a stretch.
The pros mostly take care of preparing and plating the food for the Suppers part of Sips & Suppers as we red-aproned volunteers look after setting up, serving, clearing and, of course, dish washing. It’s all for a good cause: to raise funds for two organizations leading the fight against hunger in our nation’s capital, DC Central Kitchen and Martha’s Table.
Sips & Suppers is the brainchild of culinary greats José Andrés, Joan Nathan and Alice Waters, who began the event in 2009 to raise awareness about hunger and poverty in the District of Columbia. Now in its tenth year, this extraordinary weekend unites some of our nation’s greatest chefs with a growing community of local philanthropists, foodies and activists.
The numbers are impressive. This year was the biggest yet, with 36 Suppers with 75 chefs from across the country fixing multi-course dinners for nearly 800 guests, all on one Sunday night in January.
The night before, over 1,000 foodies and philanthropists gathered at DC’s Newseum for the Sips event, an evening enjoying some of the best food and drink in this region. Nearly 200 volunteers helped staff the two events. As Nathan says, the weekend is “a way to build community, to help others and to have some fun.”
Together, Sips & Suppers 2018 raised over $650,000 for the organizations, bringing the total raised since 2009 to over $4 million. This is significant funding for the organizations’ anti-hunger, workforce development, healthy eating and education programs.
For the Suppers, people open their homes to guests who this year paid $650 per ticket, all of which goes to the organizations. This brings us back to the Supper where I volunteered, in the home of Jeremy and Beth Steindecker, with their co-hosts for the past five years, John and Kimberly Hasenberg.
While most Suppers host 16 to 22 guests, this one seated 43 at four long, beautifully set tables. To make room for everyone, the Steindeckers moved all the furniture out of their family room and dining room and brought in rented tables and chairs. I laughed as later in the evening, Beth took me upstairs to show me the couch, chairs, lamps and more piled up in their upstairs hall.
Jeremy points out that this dinner alone will raise over $25,000 from the friends and friends of friends in attendance. “It’s a great way to create awareness and who could imagine having two top chefs cooking in your kitchen!”
Nathan personally recruits most of the chefs, including these two chefs, who have cooked a Supper together since first coming on board several years ago. The James Beard 2017 Chef of the Year, Chef Mike is known for Zahav (restaurant and book of the same name) and other restaurants in Philadelphia, New York and Miami. Last November, Chef Adam opened Cal Mare in Beverly Hills after many years in San Francisco (MINA), Las Vegas and DC.
The menu is totally up to chefs, who Jeremy describes as “artists.” Chef Adam explains how each year he and Mike “get on the phone and pick who will do which course. It’s pretty easy, very fluid.” The two aim to use seasonal ingredients at their peak and follow kosher guidelines, which push the chefs in certain directions and into a certain style. This year, they say they “fell” into an Israeli theme.
Arriving an hour before the guests, the volunteers focus on last-minute setup and instructions since the chefs and their assistants have much of the food in process or nearly finished. As music fills the kitchen, Chef Mike prepares pistachio cakes while Chef Adam spoons a mixture of beets and fresh hearts of palm onto thin toasted crostini. Brussels sprouts are cut in half and are fried, salted and served on sticks like lollipops.
The pace picks up as guests arrive. After appetizers, guests take their seats, and we volunteers begin pouring wine and water. Matt Harper, chef de cuisine at Zahav, has been plating the first course, cobia crudo with pomelo and schug, a green Yemenite chili paste. It’s followed by a second course of a creamy roasted cauliflower soup made with almond milk to keep within kosher guidelines against serving milk with a meat meal. The soup presents a symphony of textures and flavors— creaminess enhanced by chopped toasted hazelnuts, small pieces of fennel-cured salmon, salmon roe and mint.
Then it’s time for the main course—lamb shoulder roulade with shawarma spice served with meat-and-rice stuffed cabbage, cooked in a sauce of tomato and pomegranate syrup, some of which is pureed and served with the two meat preparations along with a tahini drizzle. Chef Mike explains that amba, a tangy mango pickle, was used to accent the lamb, “just as you would use amba to make lamb shawarma pop in the pita—we wanted it to play the same role.”
Guests move downstairs for dessert, the pistachio cake with persimmon macerated in sugar and rose water, then left to sit for three hours at room temperature. It was served over sachlab, a Middle Eastern vanilla pudding also made with almond milk.
During dessert, Nathan stopped by to greet the guests and read a special message from President Obama congratulating Sips & Suppers on the tenth anniversary of fighting food insecurity in the community. Nathan says that she and the other two organizers “feel really good that it has been such a success and that there are volunteers, wine providers, hosts and chefs who feel as I do. For the organizations, the nearly $700,000 we raise this year will help them tremendously.”
During the sumptuous meal, there’s talk of kids, sports, work, vacations and such. There is also serious discussion of the issues at the heart of the two organizations’ missions—fighting hunger, workforce development, healthy eating and education programs. Ideas are developed, information exchanged, contacts made. As the guests depart into the cold night and we volunteers finish the cleanup, we all share a feeling of being part of something bigger, of having done something to help others in our community.
Interested in volunteering? Both organizations have year-round opportunities. Sign-up for Sips & Suppers begins each fall.
Top photo: First course of cobia crudo with pomelo and schug