Main Dish

Kitchen Revolutionaries Fêted at Liaison

September 23, 2014

Well-known chefs, smartly-dressed PR pros, tat-covered biker boys and models handing out cocktails breezed around the pool on the roof of the Liaison Hotel near Capitol Hill at sunset Thursday.

The Liaison Rooftop (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) The Liaison Rooftop
But the hip looks and trendy eats were just part of the scene. The party was to celebrate the launch of The Food Fighters, a new book chronicling the first 25 years of the local revolution known as the D.C. Central Kitchen.

It started when Robert Egger, a military brat who became a bartender at the Child Harolde and Charlie Byrd’s in the 1980s, reluctantly agreed to serve on the truck on an evening run of the “Grate Patrol,” an initiative of downtown’s Grace Church to feed the homeless.

The experience, while frustrating, led him to drop his plans to open a new nightclub he was sure would change the D.C. landscape. Instead, his high-voltage energy turned to the creation of D.C. Central Kitchen -- imbued with a leather-jacket, tough-talking rebellious spirit -- that would become a signature D.C. institution and one of the most innovative efforts to help the city’s most desperate, lost and forgotten souls.

D.C. Central Kitchen's Mike Curtin, Marrianne Ali and Robert Egger (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) D.C. Central Kitchen's Mike Curtin, Marrianne Ali and Robert Egger
Marianne Ali, originally from Lanham, was an IV heroin user on the streets for 20 years before she hit the very bottom. Finding her path back to health on a stop-and-start journey that led to a culinary degree in the early 1990s, she is now Director of Culinary Training Programs at the “Kitchen,” as its known, helping hundreds of former convicts and homeless men and women each year get the life and work skills they need to begin careers in food service.  

With the help of 15,000 volunteers, donations of food from the restaurant community, and funding from grant and individual donations, the Kitchen now serves 10,000 meals per day and trains hundreds of the city’s most vulnerable residents to get back on their feet through housing, substance abuse recovery, and skills and jobs training programs.

But as he describes the Kitchen’s work, CEO Mike Curtin, a Gonzaga College High 

Anand Shantam, a DCCK culinary instructor, with her Central Union Mission students Jerome Plunkett and Mack Baskin (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Anand Shantam, a DCCK culinary instructor, with her Central Union Mission students Jerome Plunkett and Mack Baskin
School and Williams College graduate, dismisses the usual language of charity and good works. “We want people to 

understand that the traditional idea of charity is an old model,” he says. “If people are going to part with their money, we want them to think of it as an investment in the community.”

In The Food Fighters, author and DCCK Chief Development Officer Alex Moore says thinking differently is the key to the Kitchen’s turbo-charged growth from its home in founder Egger’s beat-up Ford Econoline van 25 years ago.

Natalie Smedley and Christine Connors, Northern Virginia natives, volunteer and support the Kitchen (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Natalie Smedley and Christine Connors, Northern Virginia natives, volunteer and support the Kitchen

“The story shows what people can accomplish as volunteers,” he says. “We can do business differently. We are a business. It’s just that our product is changing lives.”

Moore’s life, like many of those who work and are trained at the Kitchen, includes some zigs and zags. He was a graduate student with a master’s from Georgetown, working on a Ph.D. in International Relations, when he read Egger’s book Begging for Change.  Moore put his studies on hold, moved back to D.C., and worked his way into a job at DCCK. That was nine years ago. “I never felt more useful than when I was working at D.C. Central Kitchen,” he said. “ I eventually dropped out of grad school and never looked back.”

Moore says the book is about the vision, the mistakes, and the warts of the renegade institution.

Delano Darby, a Central Union Mission student, with Anand Shantam, D.C. Central Kitchen culinary instructor, standing by Shantam's mouth-watering Kale Salad with Chicken and Cranberry. Delicious! (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Delano Darby, a Central Union Mission student, with Anand Shantam, D.C. Central Kitchen culinary instructor, standing by Shantam's mouth-watering Kale Salad with Chicken and Cranberry. Delicious!

“We want to help people understand how the sausage got made, but also talk about failure in a constructive way,” he said. “We don’t fix people. All we fix is meals.”

But, Moore said, the D.C. Central Kitchen is about “second, third and fourth chances” in life. “We’re all flawed, we’re all broken,” he said. “But we can share our experiences and grow together.”

Last week, DCCK celebrated the graduation of the first class of students from Central Union Mission, which offers emergency shelter and recovery programs for homeless men and women. Graduate Lee Hylton, who spent 24 months in prison prior to enrolling in the DCCK Culinary Job Training Program, started work this week at Acacia Bistro on Connecticut Ave. in Van Ness. Other employers of the graduating class include Sodexo at Marymount University and Nando’s Peri Peri.

Pizzeria Orso Chef Will Artley's (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Pizzeria Orso Chef Will Artley's
Local chef and Falls Church’s Pizzeria Orso founder Will Artley has hired DCCK graduates as permanent team members as well as interns. He started cooking at age 15 and has never wanted to pursue any other career. But that’s not what led him to join DCCK’s board of directors recently. “They show you that you can come back,” he said. “People do make mistakes -- they shouldn’t be shunned for the rest of their lives.”

Captivated by the health and wellness movements in food service, Artley has lost 135 pounds in the last year, having gotten to the finish line of 11 half-marathons and three marathons. He is now training for his second Iron Man competition.

“My work with the Kitchen has helped me be more forgiving of other people, but also more forgiving of myself,” he said.

Coco Sala's Ashleigh Spiller and Lima's PR director Gina Dakouni add panache to the party (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Coco Sala's Ashleigh Spiller and Lima's PR director Gina Dakouni add panache to the party

Celebrity chef José Andrés, owner of ThinkFoodGroup and a longtime Kitchen supporter, says “Robert Egger and D.C. Central Kitchen…changed my life, and I have never looked back. Their story” opens a door, he says, “to a new way of thinking about bringing dignity and hope to those in need.” 

Asked to name her favorite food, DCCK graduate turned Culinary Training Director Ali points to paella, the complex and preparation-intensive Spanish rice dish. “It has so many different ingredients that you have to bring together to get the taste,” she says. “It’s kind of like the work we do at the Kitchen.”

The Food Fighters is available on Amazon. Read more here.

The annual Capital Food Fight takes place Nov. 11 at 6:00 pm. For more information, click here.

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New Generation Brings Charm to Georgetown

September 21, 2014

While her classmates in high school were hanging out at the mall, watching TV, or playing computer games, Jaclyn Mason was already learning how to display Paris fashions and run a cash register. On weekends and afternoons – almost every minute she didn’t have to be in school– she was

Jaclyn Mason, Founder, and Eleni Alafoginis, Manager and Buyer (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Jaclyn Mason, Founder, and Eleni Alafoginis, Manager and Buyer
helping out in her sisters’ then-new M Street boutique, Wink. It was a high-end, independent fashion shop that captured the attention of women from P Street to Potomac.

Eleni Alafoginis, barely a teenager, also felt the pull of Georgetown as she discovered clothes, make-up, and the other acoutrements of adulthood. “Georgetown was so much cooler than Montgomery Mall or Tysons Corner,” she says. “Once I discovered Georgetown, I had to be there. In the boutiques.”

Now, these D.C. natives who first learned about fashion as pre-teens in Georgetown are creating it here. In their own store -- Charm in Georgetown, one of the few high-fashion, independent jewelry boutiques in the region.

Jewelry displayed like art at a gallery (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Jewelry displayed like art at a gallery
But understand – Mason and Alafoginis don’t just fill display cases and run a cash register, this is a studio where they live and breathe their craft, jumping out of bed each day to create unique looks for the diverse array of clients who climb the stairs to their bright white canvas of a store.

“We realized there was no specialty costume jewelry shop in Georgetown or Washington, period,” says founder and owner Mason. “We wanted to contribute to the fabric of the city by bringing something different to the retail landscape. It’s accessible luxury – making a statement without breaking the bank.”

“We sell a look,” continues Alafoginis, who learned merchandising in New York at Max Mara. “It looks high-end, but it’s affordable.”

Maybe that’s why the store draws congressional staff to college kids, to on-air TV talent from across the region.

“We have regulars who sit down and make themselves at home,” Alafoginis says,

Eleni Alafoginis and Jaclyn Mason get a rush from their work. (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Eleni Alafoginis and Jaclyn Mason get a rush from their work.
pointing at two comfortable chairs nestled amid jeweled sandals and scarves.

“We tell them to come in after they’ve gone to Cusp or Hu’s Wear to buy a new shirt or dress,” says Mason. “We can tailor jewelry specifically to a special outfit or an individual customer to give them a unique look.”

Mason looks and listens closely to each customer. A woman asks if a coin pearl necklace can be shortened and paired with earrings. Mason thinks for a minute. “You need baroque pearls,” she says, thumbing through her book of hand-made jewelry by designers she personally knows. Within minutes, she has sketched out a unique look for the client, who is thrilled at the result – and the low cost.

In the low-margin and highly-competitive retail industry, it is often hard to find sales associates who are available to offer meaningful personal attention while juggling a multitude of duties. 

Monogram necklaces from Moon and Lola for the prepster with edge (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Monogram necklaces from Moon and Lola for the prepster with edge
At Charm, each customer is treated like a special guest, and made to sparkle individually via Mason’s and Alafoginis’s sheer talent, taste and determination to offer high-end looks at H&M prices.

They are savvy buyers, with skills honed over decades despite their youth. But to Mason and Alafoginis, it’s not even work. They get visibly excited hunting down the latest looks at shows in New York and in new creative hubs across the country. “We get a rush,” says Mason, who designed the all-white store to display gems and glitter like tiny sculptures in an art gallery.

And they are survivors. As the march of national retail chain outlets continues down M Street, Charm opened in the depths of the Great Recession in 2010 and is going strong, with a second store now in Bethesda.

Mason says running the business can be hard given market volatility and the wide range of responsibilities from payroll to bookkeeping to cultivating new designers.

But she and Alafoginis do it with elegance and style. Charm is one of Georgetown’s true gems.

The center display at Charm (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) The center display at Charm

Charm is at 2910 M Street.


Featured artists at Charm:

1.      Roni Blanshay -the New York-based based designer who offering bold looks. Roni’s earrings are a hit, with some customers building large collections.

2.      Julie Vos - New York-based designer of classic gold-based collections with a variety of semi-precious stones.  Popular for cuffs, earrings and necklaces. 

3.      Jennifer Zeuner Jewelry – high-quality gold-plated monogram necklaces and delicate layering necklaces. Very “NY/LA” looking items.  Trendy, edgy and young.

4.      Moon and Lola - design team from Apex, NC who produce acrylic monogram necklaces and jewelry.  For the prepster with an edge!

5.      Valerie Nahmani Designs – Bethesda-based designer who uses all natural stones (druzy, agate, amethyst) For the super edgy boho-chic girl.

6.      Allie and Bird (designed your pieces) - Atlanta based designer. Super-bold jewelry, uses all types of pearls and semi precious stones. Each piece is unique and tells a story.

7.      Dogeared – California-based brand, nationally known for delicate gold and silver necklaces.  Each piece is displayed and sold on a card with a story.  Super popular for layering and gifts.  

8.      Charm Jewelry – a signature line of super trendy costume pieces.  Everything from long tassel necklaces to neon sparkle baubles that will get you from the work day to a night out on the town with your girlfriends.  All items are under $100.00. Affordable luxury!!!!

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D.C. Central Kitchen Innovators Put On The Dish at Book Launch Party

August 28, 2014

Robert Egger wasn’t impressed when his fiancée dragged him out one night to help feed homeless men and women on the streets of Washington. That was 25 years ago, and it wasn’t that the cocky nightclub manager didn’t want to help people—he just felt that the process was more meaningful to those serving the meals than those receiving them. He vowed to come up with something better.

Egger named his gritty, front-line nonprofit D.C. Central Kitchen, and today it has become a national model for feeding and empowering people in need. The Kitchen's CEO Michael F. Curtin, Jr. and Egger are inviting supporters to enjoy live music and great nibbles to launch "The Food Fighters" -- a new book about the nationally-recognized nonprofit innovators. Hors d'oeuvres from Ris, Kaz Sushi Bistro, Pizzeria Orso, Willow, and Art & Soul and others will be served. Scotch and beer tastings plus a signature cocktail made by D.C.’s “Mixtress” Gina Chersevani are also in the offing. The party is Thursday, September 18, 2014, 6-8:30 p.m. at Liaison Capitol Hill’s Rooftop Pool & Bar at 415 New Jersey Avenue, NW. Tickets are $75 and include food, drinks, a signed copy of “The Food Fighters,” and are on sale now at

For a quarter century, D.C. Central Kitchen has pioneered a new model of using food as a tool to change lives. It provides nutritious meals to neighbors in need, equips unemployed men and women to begin culinary careers, and engineers successful social enterprises that create good jobs. Through job training, healthy food distribution, and local small business partnerships, D.C. Central Kitchen offers path-breaking solutions to poverty, hunger, and poor health.

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