Arlington’s top chefs beat out the county’s best firehouse cooks at a reality TV-style charity competition fought in Clarendon Wednesday night.
Professional cooks won two out of three “Golden Eggplants” awarded at the Arlington Food Assistance Center‘s third annual Chiefs vs. Chefs benefit.
Given ingredients found in AFAC pantries that serve a growing number of hungry Arlington residents, Arlington County Fire Department Lt. Richard Slusher and Firefighter Anthony Westfall of Station 4 in Clarendon took the first award of the night. They whipped up potato and zucchini latkes with a Mediterranean salsa and lemon-basil sour cream. The firehouse cooks bested chef Tim Ma of the Virginia Square eatery Water & Wall. Ma made a hot dog salad with avocado, corn, fish sauce and palm sugar.
“[The latkes] were elegant, well-seasoned and artful,” judge David Guas of Bayou Bakery said after he announced his vote by hoisting a red sign with a fire hat. “Do you have any more?”
Making a vegetarian chili with crispy chicken confit, chefs Kate Jansen and Tracy O’Grady of the Ballston restaurant Willow won the soup round of the food fight. They beat out Capt. Bosephus “Bo” Bennett of ACFD headquarters and Firefighter David Harrison of Station 5, who made a fall harvest root vegetable soup topped with curry whipped cream.
“It’s creamy and delicious, and the texture is lovely,” ruled judge Shannon Overmiller of Alexandria’s Majestic Cafe.
Bennett, a 14-year veteran of the department, said county firefighters were honored to help AFAC fundraise for needy people.
“It’s for the cause. That’s what we’re here for,” he said, noting that firefighters on calls regularly refer people with empty refrigerators to AFAC’s 18 food distribution sites across the county.
The nonprofit has seen a 40 percent uptick in the number of families it serves, executive director Charles Meng said. AFAC gave food to 1,452 families on average every week from Sept. 2012 to Sept. 2013. At the end of last month, that average had risen to 2,036 families every week.
“The number of families we’re seeing is just going up,” Meng said, explaining that Arlington residents say they’re struggling after sequestration cuts and reductions to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
The competition showed that simple foods can be turned into delicious dishes, Capt. Claude Conde of Station 9 said.
“If you use some imagination, you can get some good, healthy meals out of basic ingredients.”
Conde and Firefighter Joaquin Ibarra of Station 1 competed in the competition’s last round, making an entree of creamy risotto with chicken thighs and eggplant. They faced off against chefs William Morris and Peter Smith of Vermilion in Alexandria, who made a rolled chicken ballotine with chicken mousse, tomato ragu with corn and sweet potato, and charred onion.
The Vermilion chefs won the final Golden Eggplant of the night, after the judges ruled the ACFD dish to be under-seasoned.
AFAC, which is primarily run through donations, raised more than $45,00 from the event, Meng said. He said he was happy to highlight the firehouse-cooking tradition.
ACFD Chief James Schwartz explained why firefighters are such good cooks.
“The secret of firehouse cooking is you either cook or clean up. Either you’re a cook when you get here, or you learn fast,” he said.
Independent’s Day is an occasional opinion column published on Wednesdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
As a society do we accept the responsibility to care for those less fortunate? As I sat in a packed room at the American Legion Auxiliary Unit in Vienna last Saturday, I asked myself this very question.
Social Action Linking Together (S-A-L-T.org) sponsored a “Richmond Legislative Wrap Up” which attempted to summarize the effects of their efforts on Virginia’s 2013 legislative session. The SALT organization, founded just over 10 years ago by John Horejsi, is a volunteer led organization focused squarely on the poor. Their website references the Conference of Catholic Bishops and “solidarity with those who suffer, working for peace and justice.”
Wow. This is hardly a political winner but SALT is no political organization. From the vantage point of my campaign last year, SALT was one of the few organizations that highlighted the working poor; those who work in the shadows of our 3rd wealthiest county in the nation.
With a website copyright dated for 2008, SALT is hardly a well oiled machine but knowing how to get people active and involved has to count for something. Nearly 13 political leaders accepted invitations and our Delegates Patrick Hope and Alfonso Lopez spoke to an audience of about 100 on a cold Saturday morning. Perhaps the most raucous applause was reserved for a 7th grade girl (pictured) named Rae Moar. Rae led her 7th grade class, her parents and a couple faculty members on an initiative to support the “backpack bill.”
What is the backpack bill? From my memory, it was a bill to provide school supplies to children who can’t afford them. Unfortunately, I can’t find one article about this online. But Rae apparently raised money for a lot of backpacks, received a well earned award, and spoke eloquently. Even 35th District Delegate Richard Saslaw felt comfortable stating, tongue-in-cheek, that Delegate Hope better watch out in about nine years.
Old Post Office Property Vote Tonight — This evening the County Board is scheduled to vote on the property at 1720 S. Eads Street in Crystal City, which used to be a post office. The proposal before the board is to re-zone the property and build a nearly 211,000 square foot residential building. County staff members recommend the Board approves the measures.
Food Stamp Use Doubles in Arlington — The number of people receiving food stamps in Arlington doubled over the past decade. That’s lower than the number of people in Fairfax County (triple) and the city of Alexandria (quadruple). The spike isn’t just due to the recession, it’s because more people are now eligible for food assistance. With expanded eligibility it’s estimated that half of the food stamp recipients now live above the federal poverty level. [The Arlington Connection]
Items with Arlington Logo on Sale — If you’re looking for holiday gifts, now is a good time to give the gift of Arlington — at a discount. The official Arlington County Shop, which is located in the Plaza Branch Library (2100 Clarendon Blvd), is holding an end of the year sale. Items such as shirts, hats, pens, water bottles, golf balls and USB thumb drives all feature the Arlington logo and are marked down, some as much as 50%. [Arlington Public Library]
‘Concentration of Poverty’ at APS? — Some parents say Arlington Public Schools have designed school boundaries to concentrate lower-income students in south Arlington schools. At least one parent is hoping the school system creates a rule in which “no school would be able deviate from the district-wide percentage of poverty by more or less than 10 points.” [WAMU]
District Taco Expanding — District Taco, which opened its first brick-and-mortar restaurant in Arlington, is continuing to expand in the District. The restaurant has signed a lease and will be opening a second D.C. location on Capitol Hill. [Washington Post]
Snow in the Forecast Today — Forecasters say there’s a roughly 30 percent chance Arlington could see around 1 inch of snow tonight. If not accumulating snow, there’s about a 60 percent chance of seeing a few snowflakes. [Capital Weather Gang]
Fire at Crystal Plaza Apartments — Updated at 10:05 a.m. — A small laundry room fire broke out in the basement of the Crystal Plaza apartments (2111 Jefferson Davis Hwy) in Crystal City this morning. Firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze and are now working to clear a significant amount of smoke from the building.
Polls Open for County Board Race — Polls are open until 7:00 p.m. for today’s Arlington County Board special election. The three candidates on the ballot are Libby Garvey (D), Mark Kelly (R) and Audrey Clement (G). See the list of polling places here.
Merrifield to Rival Arlington? — Merrifield, once best known for its drive-in movie theater, is transforming itself into a walkable urban community. Multiple apartment and townhouse developments are being built, and more are in the pipeline. Businesses like Harris Teeter, MOM’s Organic Market, Matchbox Pizza, Dolcezza gelato, Red Apron Butchery, Tayor Gourmet, and Cava Mezza are also on the way. Rep. Gerry Connolly says of the rapidly-developing Merrifield: “I think that it’s going to rival Arlington for a lot of the younger generation of workers and commuters.” [Washington Post]
Arlington’s Streetlight System, Explained — Of Arlington’s 17,000 streetlights, about 5,000 are owned by Arlington County while 12,000 are owned by Dominion Power. That dual ownership structure can sometimes cause long repair times, even after a resident reports that a traffic light has gone dark. [Greater Greater Washington]
Poverty on the Rise in Arlington — Arlington County is struggling to keep up with the needs of the growing segment of residents living under the poverty line. Currently, 1,200 people receive a county rent subsidy of just over $500, on average. But the current proposed budget for FY 2013 will leave 1,300 needy families without county assistance. Bridging that gap will likely require higher taxes, something County Board members are reportedly considering. [WAMU]