by senior contributor Brendan Kownacki
Photo credit: Brendan Kownacki

“As you know, food has the ability to connect us,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser as she kicked off  The 33rd Annual RAMMY Awards Gala at Walter E. Washington Convention Center and that was right where the evening was heading – connecting through food. Cue the lights, cue the music and cue the food, it’s RAMMY time once again, celebrating the culinary achievements of the DC area with the Restaurant Association of Metro Washington.


Mayor Muriel Bowser

If they do ever want to rename the gala we suggest ‘black tie and bibs.’ It is one of the tastiest, most finger-lickin’ evenings in the city and in many regards, it’s hard to imagine how anyone else gets a hot meal on this night when so many of Washington’s most talented chefs, bakers, brewers and bartenders are all gathered together under one roof.


The evening is always a bold and energetic one, mirroring the direction of DC’s emerging food scene and giving the service industry a time to stop and toast themselves after feeding the rest of the city year-round. It’s a night for fun and games and celebration. While accepting the award for Best Cocktail Program, one rep from Bourbon Steak had to make careful decisions about how to hold his drink and trophy simultaneously. Another honoree hoisted his trophy as he won and realized he had lost his wristband for the party, “so hopefully this will work.”


The acceptance speeches were peppered with entertaining moments, from a simple and gracious thank you before retreating off stage, to tributes to team members from top-to-bottom who helped to get restaurants to where they are today. While accepting the award for Best New Restaurant, the team from the swank Fiola Mare noted, the award stands for “the bussers, the line cooks, the dishwashers…nobody thanks the dishwashers.” It really does take team though in every case.


New Restaurant of the Year: Fiola Mare

Zena Polin of the Daily Dish told Hollywood on the Potomac, “I think we have a crazy wonderful brunch and that’s what makes it fun” just after winning the award for Best Everyday Casual Brunch. She noted that beyond just her team, the award is also an endorsement from and for her diners. The brunch category was one of a number of publicly voted categories so it truly was a message right from the tables.


Best Everyday Casual Brunch: The Daily Dish (Zena Polin)

Other big winners of the night, Favorite Gathering Place: Bar Pilar, Rising Culinary Star of the Year: George Pagonis, Kapnos, Best Everyday Casual Restaurant: DGS Delicatessen, Wine Program of the Year: Iron Gate, and Best Upscale Casual Brunch: Le Diplomate. A well-deserved toast to all the winners.


Chef of the Year: Victor Albisu, Del Campo and Taco Bamba

One of the main attractions for people is always the Chef of the Year award, this year going to Victor Albisu of Del Campo and Taco Bamba. Albisu was not shy when he took to the podium. “I’ve burned so many bridges on my way here, this is so strange,” he said bluntly. Regardless of what may have happened in the past, his rich Latin food speaks for itself and he was going to enjoy this moment in the spotlight, shrugging off signals to wrap up by calmly stating that he knew he was the last award. “I’m the last guy, relax!” And of course, he couldn’t leave the stage without noting that both his restaurants are hiring.


Cuisine from Peru, Argentina, Chile. Treats from many local restaurants and even a bit of liquid nitrogen ice cream. By the end of the evening, the room was absolutely shaking with energy (and a strong bass track.) It’s going to be tough, but we’ll have to contain our excitement until next year.