A bit of blarney, some bipartisan peacemaking and some seriously swoonworthy food – the best of all of DC’s worlds collide in An Evening with Celtic Chefs on April 13 at the St. Regis Hotel downtown celebrating the work of the Washington Ireland Program (WIP). The program reaches “across the aisle” in Congress and “across the isle” to promote peace in Ireland and serve as a model for post-conflict reconciliation. It is also a model for throwing an untraditional Washington party. “No sit-down tables,” insists WIP Board Member Kevin Sullivan. “No long speeches.” “And no rubber chickens!” exclaims Carmel Martin, a first-generation Irish American and WIP board member who has sampled a lifetime of rubber chicken in her distinguished career as a civil rights attorney and policy guru. The star of this event is the food. “I will never forget the foie gras macaron that the team from Le Diplomate served last year,” Martin recalls fondly. So it’s settled: you’re going. Obviously. What local foodie stars are we eagerly anticipating? So glad you asked. Here are three of the six.
The Irish Inn at Glen Echo
Originally from Syracuse, N.Y., Chef Ted Hughes started in small restaurants, worked in hotels and resorts around the world, and then landed in DC at the Irish Inn at Glen Echo – with the goal of eventually having a place of his own. That time has finally come with the March opening of Lahinch Tavern & Grill in the Cabin John Shopping Center & Mall in Potomac, Md., which he co-owns with the all-Irish crew behind the Irish Inn. In an environment of reclaimed wood and opulence glass, this casual neighborhood Irish American tavern and grill will feature fresh, locally-sourced interpretations of Irish cuisine – think shepherd’s pie, but made with braised short ribs.
Hughes and the Irish Inn have been involved with the WIP’s An Evening with Celtic Chefs for many years. Irish Inn co-owner Christie Hughes came to the U.S. from Ballymahon in County Longford over 40 years ago, and has long been a mainstay of Washington’s Irish community. The opportunity to support the WIP and to encourage peace in the homeland while serving great food was too tasty to resist.
So what will Hughes unveil at An Evening with Celtic Chefs? Probably his favorite Irish food: sausage rolls, which he makes with an Irish mustard slaw, “which gives it a bit of unexpected zing,” he says proudly. He served these at the event last year, and they were tremendously popular.
“It’s a very common Irish food,” Hughes notes. “You pop into a little shop and grab a sausage roll, almost like street food, so it really makes sense for an event like this.”
TRACY O’GRADY Campono
Chef Tracy O’Grady has the distinction of having been a “Celtic chef” every year of the celebration’s existence.
“It’s a smaller, more intimate event that’s close to my heart,” she notes. And “it’s a program that builds peace in the world – people really should look at what the Irish and the U.K. have accomplished.”
O’Grady, originally from the ethnic Irish enclave on the south side of Buffalo, N.Y., grew up on Irish fare; when she opened the critically-acclaimed Willow in Ballston, she updated that heritage with a focus on fresh and local ingredients. But the smoked salmon still came directly from Ireland via Fergus Kennedy of “Most Things Irish.”
Willow’s closing late in 2015 was a much-mourned moment (the restaurant’s last night was an “Irish wake”), but as O’Grady observed, “it’s a tough industry to start with, and it’s getting tougher.” Now, working in a kitchen without the pressures of small business ownership is “a breath of fresh air. I love the place and
I love the staff, and I’m happy to be here.”
So what can we expect on April 13 from this Celtic chef? O’Grady is mum on menu details, but “we always try to do a modern interpretation of Irish cuisine,” she says.
“One year we did Irish flatbread, with smoked salmon and Irish cheddar – that was really popular. One year I did risotto – with Irish oats.”
Every year she has whipped up something savory and something sweet, including a memorable Guinness cake with Bailey’s buttercream. We can’t wait to see O’Grady’s post-Willow creativity blossom.
JOHN FIELDING Broad Branch Market
John Fielding, who was trending before DC’s food scene was trendy, has been involved with the WIP event for many years.
“We loved the idea of what the program represents about working together through our differences to achieve the greater goals of peace and prosperity,” he remembers.
And the Irish connection?
“My partner Tracy Stannard (maiden name Concaugh) is from an Irish family from Boston, and I’m a bit of a mutt from the British Isles.”
Fielding has a soft spot for the Emerald Isle. While traveling around Ireland a few years ago, “what really struck me was the quality of the produce, dairy and proteins – amazing lamb and salmon, of course, but the vegetables were beautiful, and I could drink the milk all day. And the eggs – electric orange yokes and creamy whites.”
But the chef’s favorite is the full Irish breakfast.
“We stayed at a B&B in Dingle, and sitting at the table in the morning drinking tea and waiting for my plate – I would take that over most fine dining experiences.”
At last year’s An Evening with Celtic Chefs, Fielding represented Chao Ku in Shaw and served an Irish-Chinese breakfast: five-spice black pudding with Chinese pork sausage and fried quail egg. In previous years, he has participated in the event representing his business, Broad Branch Market. This year’s menu, which comes courtesy of Fielding’s new Soapstone Market (Van Ness, opening late summer 2016), is still a blank slate.
“We will definitely have Tracy’s famous Irish soda bread in the mix, but the rest will be determined as we get closer.”
Fun Facts About the Event
For seven years, An Evening with Celtic Chefs has raised money for WIP’s service and leadership programs.
Six DC celebrity chefs will show off at a variety of cooking stations, and then their culinary creations will be plated and served up by Washington VIPs – last year featured Senator Chris Murphy, novelist Alice McDermott and Ambassador Elizabeth Bagley as glam sous chefs.
This year, the evening will honor Joyce and John Flynn for their years of service to the WIP.
Alumni of WIP’s leadership and service programs include the youngest Cabinet ministers currently serving in the Irish and Northern Irish governments, and two members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Don’t miss An Evening with Celtic Chefs on April 13 from 7-9 p.m. For more information, go to www.wiprogram.org
THE ST. REGIS: 923 16th St. NW, DC; 202-638-2626; www.stregiswashingtondc.com