Hospitality Giants Aim to Mobilize Food Fans to Action (Video)
It turns out that huddling with food-conscious Washingtonians and raising millions of dollars for local charities was merely an appetizer for “Sips & Suppers” co-founders José Andrés, Joan Nathan and Alice Waters.
Their next objective: getting the well-fed masses up from their respective tables and into the streets to clamor for change in school-lunch policies.
“We need a ‘Back to School’ march bigger than you could ever imagine,” Waters told CQ Roll Call, mapping out plans for a demonstration tentatively set to be held in Washington in September 2016. “We need to bring in people who care about hunger in America, everyone who cares about public education, edible education. We’re talking about a free school lunch that ends childhood hunger and supporting the farms that take care of the land who nourish us.”
A tireless advocate of wholesome dining, Waters — who founded the award-winning temple to locavorism that is Chez Panisse — expressed a desire to challenge “the pedagogy of educational institutions” by making good, nutritious food the cornerstone of the next election.
“We would like whoever is going to be the next president to take this with him or her and to understand that this is the priority. We care about the land that feeds us,” she said.
Andrés — who helped launch the series of intimate dinners and cocktail hours in 2009 that has since spiraled into a three-day blitz of gourmet food, artisan tippling and high-profile chef sightings — suggested that things had always been building to this.
“After seven years … we are coming to realize that maybe we have something good going on here,” he said of an event that raised more than $500,000 for D.C. Central Kitchen and Martha’s Table this year. “If we are smart and we move the pieces in the right way, ‘Sips and Suppers’ can be much more than just a simple, great but simple, way to raise money. It can be a place to rally many people on this issue of hunger.”
He described the nascent movement in broad brushstrokes, emphasizing that while he believes eradicating hunger in America is mission critical and calling for universal breakfast and lunch service in schools could serve as solid starting points, what will be asked of lawmakers remains fluid.
“We have to come with data prepared to say why this is a good investment in America … every child having a plate of food,” Andrés said of the research-intensive road ahead.
The Food Party
Waters’ would-be army poured into the Newseum on Jan. 24 to feast on exotic nibbles, stirring beverages and tasty treats whipped up by chefs from all over town.
Acqua al 2 dished out al dente noodles buffered by hearty meat sauce. Barrel seduced passersby with Necromancer #2, a sugary concoction fusing together gin, lemon juice and smoked rosemary syrup.
Ocopa provided a round-trip to Lima, Peru, via spiced mashed potato balls stuffed with dulcet crabmeat, herby cilantro and zesty aji amarillo.
Reality cooking alumnus Rock Harper, who has joined forces with Barracks Row hospitality baron Xavier Cervera to launch Willie’s Brew & Que in Yards Park, offered guests a pork-filled joy ride composed of wiggly, Sriracha-flavored belly and Korean-style pulled pork.
Those interested in getting a bird’s eye view of the action were invited to swoop high above the crowds in twin “partyvators” — lifts outfitted with themed bars at the rear.
The Gallic ride featured “French blonde” (forged from gin, elderflower liqueur, grapefruit juice and lemon bitters), while the Alaskan ride doled out an eggnog-like knock-off called “Moose’s milk” (Canadian whiskey, rum, heavy cream).
Everywhere you looked, people were either clutching a frou-frou drink (the sugar-rimmed sidecar was very nice), a delectable sweet (the kids love the cake pops) or a best-selling cookbook.
When they weren’t devouring everything in sight — Hill Country, Willie’s and Cava all ran out of food within an hour — the conversations turned to gustatory pursuits.
“Have you been to Napa?” a woman asked a new acquaintance. “I plan my trips around food,” her suddenly overjoyed companion confessed.
“I can’t believe Gina’s a vegetarian. It’s just not worth it to be that skinny,” one generously proportioned gentleman, in line for a pate-packed charcuterie display, said to the voluptuous gal-pal at his side.
Feeding the Beast
After two days of nonstop cooking and eating, the gastronomic crusaders made their way to Capitol Hill.
Once the finger foods and free booze started flowing, House Hunger Caucus Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., repeated his mantra — which should be familiar to anyone who watches his frequent one-minute speeches — “Hunger is a political condition.”
“We have the food. We know what needs to be done to help get people out of hunger, to get them on their feet. We don’t have the political will,” he told the congressional staffers, interns and Sips & Suppers organizers piled into the Rayburn basement.
McGovern reiterated his call for a White House summit to end hunger and urged colleagues from across the political spectrum to join the fight.
Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, a restauranteur herself, divulged she had brunch at Nathan’s home on Jan. 25, and dinner at the Waters-led event (“It was wonderful,” she gushed of the $5,000 per-person showcase) that same evening. She was heartened to have the culinary heroes bend Congress’ collective ear.
“They give a certain amount of legitimacy to the issue that’s not a partisan kind of thing. And they’re such rocks stars in their own ways, everyone wants to meet the chefs,” she said.
Patty Stonesifer, president and CEO of Martha’s Table, heaped praise on the participating chefs for rallying to her cause. Her job, she said, was working out how best to keep the conversation going.
“That’s the real question. Is it a hunger series down at the Sixth and I synagogue? What is it that will keep the interest that people have shown going?” she asked CQ Roll Call.
The danger, of course, being that once the celebs depart, support dries up.
“We need to make sure that we don’t just do this once a year, right? That we don’t just throw a party and then go home and feel good about it, but that we use that party and the resources that come out of it to both provide solutions, but also just to keep the conversation going,” Stonesifer said.
And while pols may have plenty else on their plates, she said there’s no shortage of initiatives leading back to food security.
“Hunger isn’t just about food, right? It’s about all those issues and opportunities that roll into not having enough food. It’s jobs, it’s good wages, it’s good benefits. Keeping [the Women, Infants and Children program]. Keeping [the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program],” she noted. “So there is always something that people should be thinking about doing, voicing their opinions on.”
Andrés doesn’t seem too worried about getting another bite of this particular apple.
“I’m sure one day we’re going to fill, not the entire city, but the entire country. Because this is something anybody will rally behind,” he projected.