by laura mullen | February 24, 2014 | People
Ambassadors connect with guests by serving their country’s cuisine. This table features fare from Ireland (CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT): whole-wheat Irish bread with smoked salmon, Irish stew, bacon-wrapped oysters, mini mince pies and Butler’s Irish chocolates, black and white pudding with potato garnish, and a Kerrygold Dubliner Irish cheese plate.
Ambassadors play an integral role in the fluctuating landscape of national and global politics. While posted in Washington, their jobs demand a constant schedule of meetings with White House officials, NGOs, and business leaders to help define and grow the nation’s relationships, yet it still requires the extreme finesse of socializing—a notion that is all too familiar to many Washingtonians. So its business as usual for many nation representatives—whether the deal is struck in the Oval Office or a over three-course dinner.
Ambassador Anne Anderson loves to highlight Ireland’s dairy and meat, including its grass-fed beef that may soon grace American tables if a proposed trade agreement is approved.
“It’s the association between Ireland and good conversation: easy times, relaxation—that’s what we like guests to enjoy in the house,” says the newly installed Ambassador Anne Anderson of Ireland on hosting gatherings at her residence. “The Irish government has had the house since the mid 1960s,” she explains. “It’s a lovely space for entertaining, so we use it to the fullest.”
Ambassador Anderson presented her credentials to President Obama in September 2013, and while not brand-new to the diplomatic community of Washington—she was based in DC in the 1980s as a young diplomat before accepting posts around the world—she has had the opportunity to see the nation’s capital change over decades. “The city has improved tremendously. It’s a much livelier, more sophisticated, multicultural city,” she notes. Keeping the capital’s changing landscape and demographic in mind, the ambassador still yearns to provide the cozy and accepting hospitality most have come to expect from her country. “Yes, it is a building owned by the Irish government,” she says, “but people should feel at home and have a real sense of warm, relaxed Irish hospitality.”
With her position comes the necessity of hosting social events in the residence, typically dinners and cocktail receptions, several times a week. “Conversation is so important to an Irish evening—talking, telling stories, laughing, music, poetry,” she explains. “Members of Congress have commented that they find it very easy to be relaxed in these surroundings, and I always try to give that note to the evening.”
Serving the national cuisine is always part of the main event at these embassy gatherings. “You want to create that Irish ambience to showcase what’s best about your country in your food,” says Anderson. “We are a country based on dairy products and meats, so everything originates with the fantastically green grass we have in Ireland.” Her homeland’s cuisine is also an economic focus for the ambassador. One in seven Irish jobs is in the agri-food industry, according to an Irish Farmers Association–commissioned study, with beef exports reportedly increasing 28 percent in the past three years, a statistic the ambassador hopes to bolster even more in 2014 with proposed trade agreements to reopen the exporting of Irish beef to the United States. She adds, “I’m really looking forward to Irish beef gracing our table next year.”
10 oz. whole-wheat flour
4 oz. all-purpose flour
3 oz. rolled oat flakes
1 tsp. sea salt
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 medium egg (beaten)
28 fl. oz. buttermilk
• Preheat oven to 320ËšF.
• Brush a 1-pound loaf pan with melted butter and dust with whole-wheat flour.
• In a large bowl, mix together the whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, oat flakes, sea salt, and the sifted baking soda.
• Make a well in the center, and add the beaten egg and buttermilk. Fold together gently until just combined.
• Transfer to the loaf tin and use a wet spatula to lightly even out the top. Dust with whole-wheat flour and mark a cross on top with a butter knife.
• Bake in preheated oven for 65 minutes. Turn out of tin onto cooling rack immediately.
Rachad Bouhlal, the ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco, sees his country’s diplomacy and diverse culture integrated into its dishes.
Entertaining his DC counterparts and international visitors—most recently the King of Morocco Mohammed VI, who visited DC in late 2013—is something Rachad Bouhlal, ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco to the United States since late 2011, does as often as he can. “I love inviting people around a Moroccan meal in order to build friendships because we believe that we are all the same, and that celebrating food could be a bridge between cultures.”
As the ambassador describes it, the way of the Moroccan people is to welcome, entertain, and provide hospitality to guests from all backgrounds. “Morocco is a country of peace and cohabitation, where Berbers, Arabs, Muslims, and Jews have been living in harmony for centuries,” he explains. Ambassador Bouhlal strives to promote this kind of harmony through shared meals and receptions at his residence as well as the embassy. “Morocco is a mosaic of cultures, religions, and traditions, and this is reflected in the culinary tradition,” he muses. “And we love to entertain and cook for friends and family.”
Comprised of multiple shared courses, a traditional Moroccan meal will include the celebrated dish of couscous, especially on Fridays. “Couscous remains everyone’s favorite for the simple reason that it is a light meal that looks voluminous but has all the necessary nutrients,” explains Bouhlal. The course is served with a variety of fresh vegetables like carrots, zucchini, and peppers with lamb, beef, or chicken. “The Moroccan tradition of eating couscous is to serve it in one big plate from which everyone eats,” he explains. There’s something to be said for the opportunity to sit with dignitaries, heads of state, religious leaders, and elected officials (at a round table in the Moroccan tradition) as equals, sharing a meal in the name of international diplomacy and cultural exploration. “It’s part of our life, being around the table [and] being together,” Bouhlal states, “It’s the moment of sharing—an important one.”
4 chicken leg quarters or a whole chicken, cut up
2 onions, sliced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup kalamata olives
1 preserved lemon, rinsed and 1/4-inch diced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ginger
2 pinches saffron
• Rinse and dry the chicken, and season it with salt and a little freshly ground black pepper.
• In a 4-to 5-quart pan over medium high heat, add enough olive oil to coat the pan and brown the chicken well, skin-side down. Transfer the chicken to a plate.
• Add the onions and garlic, and cook until golden.
• Return the chicken to the pan, along with any juices. Sprinkle with the spices and fry briefly, but do not burn the spices.
• Add the olives, preserved lemon, and cover.
• Bring to a boil and adjust seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste, then reduce heat and simmer gently, covered for 30–45 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and tender.
• Add the cilantro and serve.
• Garnish with fresh cilantro and preserved lemon slices. Serves 4.
Ambassador of Spain D. Ramón Gil-Casares Satrústegui says that serving excellent food and wine from his country sparks conversation among guests.
“Wine and wine,” offers Ambassador D. Ramón Gil-Casares Satrústegui of Spain when describing what beverage guests can expect to sip when dining at his DC residence. He unabashedly boasts that his homeland of Spain is most proud of this export—and with good reason. Wine Spectator named the Cune Imperial Rioja Gran Reserva 2004 as 2013’s Wine of the Year—a first for Spanish wines—and it also happens to be a favorite of the ambassador. He reveals, “I recommended this wine to a very important person in this country.”
But wine is not the only element of a meal at the Spanish ambassador’s residence. “Apart from the pleasure of eating an organized dinner,” Satrústegui explains, “you invite interesting people. People that can help you understand this country. People through whom you might send messages. People that are influenced by public opinion, because they are members of the media, because they have access to the media. People from think tanks. You can invite a congressman or staffers from Congress.”
The notion of doing business over a meal is arguably the most common form of deal making in Washington. The food goes a long way in making these meetings as fruitful as possible, Satrústegui explains. “If you serve something distasteful… then [guests will] forget any message you were giving. So we calculate when we have to serve these dishes. When you enjoy a meal, it [sparks] the conversation, you start making connections, guests get interested… then you pass [on] the messages you want to pass.”
In a city of constant networking and negotiations, ambassadors are the ultimate connectors. “Every country is complex, but this is even more complex because of your political ideology,” Satrústegui explains. “America is the biggest political economic power in the world, so we all need to have good relations. We belong to the same world, we share values, and we have many things in common.”
1 cup navy beans
1 slice raw ham
4 oz. salt pork or bacon fat in chunk
6 garlic cloves
1 onion, quartered
1 bay leaf
3 chorizo (Spanish) sausages
1 small rump roast or several pork ribs (optional)
1 tbsp. Spanish sweet paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
• Pour beans into a large pot of cold water with onion, garlic, and bay leaf.
• Soak the beans, ham, and bacon overnight.
• The next day, drain water from the beans. Place the beans in a large pot with garlic, onion, and bay leaf. Cover it and place it on the stove, then turn on high. When the water begins to boil, add the other ingredients and simmer with the cover off for about 2.5 to 3 hours, or until beans are soft. Add the saffron and Spanish sweet paprika.
• Taste the Fabada, and add salt and pepper for taste. (The pork and bacon fat can sometimes be quite salty, so be careful not to put in too much salt.)
• When cooked, remove from the stove and cut meat and chorizo into bite-size pieces.
• Serve in bowls with crusty bread. Serves 6.
photography by stephen voss