Late on Friday, the U.S. State Department announced the 90 chefs it tapped for the very first Diplomatic Culinary Partnership. Eater National has the full list, but I’ll save you a little bit of hunting—the only Seattle (or Washington) names on there are Tilth and Golden Beetle chef Maria Hines and Holly Smith of Cafe Juanita.
Career diplomats schooled in Russian history or the nuances of Mexico’s economy are all well and good. But the State Department has decades, even centuries, of proof that a little star power from someone like Walt Disney or a well-dressed First Lady can also be a powerful tool. Obviously food holds its own form of power; the term “breaking bread” is a cliché for a reason. All the better if that bread is actually sablefish prepared by Ming Tsai for China's potential new president Xi Jinping.
Many names on the full chef list should look familiar to dedicated viewers of shows like Top Chef Masters and Iron Chef America (Hines has been on both, and she and Smith both won their battles on Iron Chef America). Portland chefs Cathy Whims and Naomi Pomeroy are on there, too. The program was developed in partnership with the James Beard Foundation, so the fact that Smith won Best Chef Northwest in 2008 and Hines scored the award in 2009 win for Best Chef Northwest make both women logical selections. Both chefs traveled to DC last year to cook affordable family meals at a Partnership for a Healthier America summit.
According to the official release announcing the program, “chefs from across the country will serve as resources to the Department in preparing meals for foreign leaders, and will participate in public diplomacy programs that engage foreign audiences abroad as well as those visiting the United States.”
Chicago and DC chef and unabashed camera hog Art Smith will travel to Israel this spring to cook an official meal. San Francisco's Mourad Lahlou has already videoconferenced about Moroccan-American cooking with a group in Tajikistan. But Hines told Seattle Weekly she isn’t yet sure where she will be going, but the chef is very familiar with the Eastern Mediterranean; she traveled extensively through places like Istanbul, Cairo, and Beirut for research purposes before opening Golden Beetle.