Like any real estate agent worth her salt will tell you, “location, location, location” is everything when it comes to self-promotion.
We suspect the folks at the fledgling Hill Center (921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE) would agree — particularly because their shiny newness and proximity to award-wining local restaurants has helped them welcome a parade of wildly talented tastemakers to their nascent demonstration kitchen.
The abandoned Old Naval Hospital facility sprang back to life last fall. That’s when the Hill Center formally came into being, bringing with it the promise of community-building and educational opportunities.
One facet that immediately caught our eye was the Lorinda “Annie” Etheridge Hooks demonstration kitchen, a home away from home for fraternity-starved epicureans eager to devour closely guarded hospitality secrets.
Foodie prayers have been answered thanks to the concerted efforts of Hill Center Executive Director Diana Ingraham and master chef recruiter Mary Ann Brownlow.
Ingraham helped plan the kitchen, which can accommodate as many as 14 students at a time and boasts an impressive array of modern flourishes, including:
• a six-burner KitchenAid gas cook top
• built-in KitchenAid double ranges
• an Electrolux refrigerator
• an industrial (two-minute-cycle) dishwasher
• a three-compartment sink
• an overhead plasma TV
“Turns out, we put in the Cadillac of everything,” Ingraham said of the state-of-the-art accoutrements. She noted that Hill Center board member and renowned food writer Bonny Wolf helped design the demo kitchen and hand-picked the dishware.
After the lights were on and the appliances buzzing, Ingraham turned to Brownlow, an event planner whom she had collaborated with during their AFI/SilverDocs days, to help fill the vacant stools.
Brownlow pounced on the challenge, calling on neighboring chefs — many of whom are the toast of reality-cooking competitions, nationwide “Best of” lists and regional lore — to share their accumulated knowledge with fellow Capitol Hill denizens.
‘You Might Be Hungry’
Daniele Catalani, chef and founder of Toscana Café, was one early recruit.
We watched the renowned chef slow-walk eight rapt attendees through the process of transforming stiff, beady grains of Arborio rice into mouthwatering spoonfuls of stock-saturated, maddeningly aromatic risotto.
Catalani was deliberate but engaging, pausing to pepper students with prized tips culled from a lifetime of honing his craft. “The toasting part is very important because it will create a coat on every grain,” he counseled while flash flaming the raw starch.
He implored everyone to add homemade chicken stock, pitching raw poultry bones, wings and discarded skin as culinary gold, to their cooking repertoire.