How This Food Award Show Channeled Art, Music, and Political Activism

The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington celebrated the region's food service industry at a splashy gala that didn't skimp on fun.

By Adele Chapin June 21, 2018, 7:15 AM EDT

More than 2,300 Rammys guests headed upstairs at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center after the award ceremony for dinner, drinks, and dancing.

Photo: Kalorama Photo

36th Rammy Awards Gala
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After 36 years, the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington has figured out the key to its annual Rammy Awards Gala format: honoring the shining stars of D.C.'s food scene, then getting them out on the dance floor.

“When you do this event year after year, you keep what's best about it and then you try to improve on the challenges and you try to add a few touches,” gala chair David Moran of Clyde's Restaurant Group said. “It is the restaurant industry, and if there's a group of people who know how to cut loose on a Sunday night, it's us.”

At Sunday's event, thematic additions included food-inspired mural installations by Design Foundry greeting the gala's 2,300 guests at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Artist Kelly Walker painted in real time near the step-and-repeat for an interactive element. Audio speakers were scattered throughout the convention, each playing a different playlist submitted by D.C. chefs from restaurants such as Del Mar and Maydan.

“This year, it's really about how art, music, and design have come to be a big real part of the restaurant industry,” Moran said.

The Rammys came close to doubling as a Capitals watch party: That was an alternative plan for hockey-obsessed Washingtonians, since a Stanley Cup finals game was scheduled the same night as the event. But the Caps cinched the championship ahead of time and the party went on as normal.

That wasn't the only event happening in the background of the Rammys: On June 19, D.C. residents voted on Initiative 77, a controversial ballot measure that would change who is legally responsible for paying D.C.'s minimum wage to tipped workers. (The measure ended up passing.) “The Rammys is June 10, the vote is June 19,” Moran said. “I think we have to address it. I also don't think we want to turn it into something political. This is a night to celebrate the wonderful achievement of everyone in our industry.”

Rammy winners, the association's president and C.E.O. Kathy E. Hollinger, and Mayor Muriel Bowser spoke about the “Save Our Tips: Vote No on 77” campaign during the award ceremony. The reception included a photo booth with “Vote No” signage, while a lighting gobo with “Vote No” artwork was displayed in the convention center, and there was even a place register to vote.

After the award ceremony, guests headed upstairs for a reception with buffets from sponsors including long-running Rammy partner ProChile and the Embassy of Chile, and newer sponsors like the Embassy of the Republic of Tunisia. Design Foundry created eye-catching lounges for the likes of Events DC and Citi Open, and Heineken showed off its new table-top draught system called Blade.

The Rammys announced winners in 21 award categories, including nods for Masseria as the formal fine dining restaurant of the year, Chiko as new restaurant of the year, and Centrolina's Amy Brandwein for chef of the year. The awards also honored José Andrés and Patricia Fernandez de la Cruz with the Exceptional Leadership & Impact Award and the Dubliner's Daniel J. Coleman with the Duke Zeibert Capital Achievement Award for 44 years in business, respectively.

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