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It’s official: the Washington-related puns have begun and it’s only Episode Two!

Last night’s episode of Top Chef began with a Quickfire Challenge whose DC connections were worn on its sleeve, er, apron.  Paired cheftestants, red and blue aprons, working together to achieve consensus (with one hand tied behind your back, no less!)…what better metaphor could there be for Congress?

And the end result: a bipartisan-dwich!  Get it?  The only way this could have forced the connection any further is if every sandwich was required to include “pork” as a main ingredient.

Even so, the episode did a great job of introducing the chefs (and the audience) to the Let’s Move! initiative and the national effort to improve the quality and nutritional value of school lunch programs across the country.  It didn’t hurt that they included White House Chef / Food Policy Guy / Foodie Sex Symbol Sam Kass to do so.

After the jump, details on the local (Kass) and the locale (Alice Deal Middle School) as well as some more info on Let’s Move!

Image from Inevitable Table website

Sam Kass

Within a week of his winning the election, rumors started swirling and tongues started wagging about who the Obamas would select as their White House Chef.  Never mind that it’s a position that tends to transcend administrations, and never mind that it’s a position that involves cooking for the family AND cooking for huge State Dinners.  Celebrity chefs like Art Smith and Rick Bayless were breathlessly suggested because, you know, they’re from Chicago too!  And Art Smith even has a restaurant in DC!

As it turns out, the Obamas opted to keep Cristeta Comerford as the White House Executive Chef, but they also brought their personal chef with them from Chicago to work with Comerford in the kitchen AND to take an active role in a range of healthy food initiatives.  Sam Kass has worked in high-end Chicago restaurants like Avec and Blackbird, but he’s also been a passionate advocate of local food.  When the word came down that he would be coming on at the White House, Chicagoist put out a quick rundown of his bio.

Since his arrival he’s been involved with everything from the White House Garden to the new FreshFarm Market by the White House to the Let’s Move! initiative.  For great updates on what Kass and the rest of the administration are doing with regard to food and agriculture, keep an eye on Obama Foodorama, a great local blog that’s been on the beat from the beginning.

Let’s Move! and school lunches

Let’s Move! is the blanket program that has been created by the administration (and especially championed by First Lady Michelle Obama) “to solve the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation.”  It includes recommendations for healthier food choices as well as a program to promote increased physical activity.

One of the most talked-about aspects of the program is the recent addition of the “Chefs Move to Schools” undertaking that was kicked off with a huge gathering of celebrity chefs at the White House.  The program seeks to pair chefs with local schools to help their cafeterias prepare healthier, tasty meals…much like this week’s Elimination Challenge.

For a great cheat sheet on the current state of the National School Lunch Program, check out Culinate.

It’s especially interesting to note that the administration has been highlighting schools in the local area that are already making positive progress on these efforts.  One such school, visited by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on May 13th, is Alice Deal Middle School right here in Washington.  Sound familiar?

Alice Deal Middle School

Believe it or not, that surprisingly spacious kitchen and those beautiful grounds do, in fact, belong to a DC public school.  The Alice Deal Middle School in Northwest Washington just completed a massive renovation project.  Additionally, as noted in the Let’s Move! blog entry, Deal is working with Whole Foods to regularly advise on healthier eating options.

Checking out their website, I was impressed to learn that Deal completed their qualification as an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program school.  In addition to offering core curriculum classes the IB MYP includes a focus on arts/music, world languages (Deal offers French, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese), physical education and technology.  After school programs and activities include the usual sports, but they also have more unique offerings like fencing and rugby.

For the record – this is NOT your typical DC public school.  But the fact that they ARE a public school that accepts students from the local neighborhood (and applicants from elsewhere in the District) makes all of this just a little more impressive.  Go Vikings!

Kudos to Tim Carman at the Washington City Paper for getting the early tip-off that Top Chef would be filming here.


Finally, we promised to give a shout-out each time one of the suggestions made during our “Top Chef DC” contest last season makes an appearance.

We forgot to do so last week, so we’ll start with Abby, Julia and Michael who all suggested something in conjunction with cherry blossoms and/or the Cherry Blossom Festival.  FRAN and Patricia Fitzgerald offered up challenges set at the Newseum, with Patricia even going so far as to locate hers on the roof.  And Eric S was, surprisingly, the only commenter to suggest Eric Ripert as a judge.  No one mentioned the Mellon Auditorium.

As for this week’s challenges:

Four of our entrants suggested Sam Kass (or “the White House Chef”) as a guest judge: Jacques, statedinner, Kendall and Traci

Two commenters, Pintpet and Matt, suggested variations on a “bipartisan” theme, but neither one carried it to the logical(?) conclusion of tying people together and making them create a bipartisandwich.

Mary G pretty much nailed the heart of this Elimination Challenge: “Meet with Members of Congress and or the WH about the obesity problem among US children. Have contestants make a healthy, low fat lunch and or dinner for school children. It has to be something delicious, and low-fat but also something that families can learn to make themselves.”

And it should be noted that cheftestant Tamesha Warren actually mentioned reading up on school lunches as a result of seeing comments suggesting a school lunch challenge while preparing for Top Chef.

That’s all for this week!