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Chef Todd Gray’s 10TH Anniversary Party

Photo by Roy Wright

Chef Todd Grey and Jordan Wright
Photo by Roy Wright

Valerie Plame has nothing over undercover agent Ellen Kassoff-Gray. Ellen is the power behind the magic of Todd Gray, executive chef of Equinox, Market Salamander and the forthcoming Salamander Resort and Spa. Working on the down-low, she pulled off a super-secret surprise party to celebrate her husband’s ten years at the helm of Equinox. (“I could be robbing banks up and down the East Coast and he would never know!”) But this was no ordinary party, it was a roast and the roasters were charged with serving up some zingers to nail the low-key kindly chef. No matter which long-ago episode they tried to pin on him he took it all in with his natural grace.

Sheila Johnson of Salamander Farms and Market Salamander in Middleburg was the first to skewer the chef.

“Todd Gray is so nice that he makes Mother Theresa look like Gordon Ramsay,” and “Todd Gray is so nice that the last time Dick Cheney ate here, he decided to use San Pellegrino in all future waterboarding sessions.” After eight straight nominations for a RAMW award and five straight nominations for a James Beard award, Johnson declared him the “Susan Lucci of Washington chefs.” He’s been nominated yet again this year. One hopes he has a better track record than Lucci. Johnson let us all in on Gray’s first passion — golf — which he traded in for the restaurant life many years ago. And to help atone for giving up his dream to play the Masters Tournament at Augusta National, she presented him with the iconic “green jacket.”

Photo by Roy Wright

Chef Todd Gray and Dr. Shelia Johnson
Photo by Roy Wright

Uber-restauranteurs Dan Mesches of Stir Food Group and the ever-charming Gus DiMillo of Passion Food Hospitality were on board, as were food writer extraordinaire Marion Burros of The New York Times, David Hagedorn of The Washington Post and the ubiquitous Michael Birchenall of Food Service Monthly, who told tales out of school to everyone’s delight, and wouldn’t have missed this for the world. There were foodies from as far away as Maine.

So many chefs came up through the ranks in this town or trained with Gray, the “kitchen shepherd,” and they wanted to be there to pay homage. Some of his contemporaries like cohort Robert Wiedmaier of Brabo, Tony Chittum of Vermillion, Michel Richard of Citronelle and Victor Albisu of BLT Steak gathered round to hear the stories and spin a few of their own. Old friend and award-winning pastry chef Heather Chittum brought a tray of her dazzling chocolate caramel tarts with Maldon sea salt topping.

Lynne Breaux, president of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington and who is up to her eyeballs getting ready for the RAMMYS next week, popped in to watch the action despite the “out-of-body experience,” as she referred to it, of running the big awards program. Kate Adams, producer at Fox TV’s WTTG, has known the Grays a long time and had the inside track spilling the beans about the madcap home life with the Gray’s adorable son, Harrison.

Professional comedian Chris Coccia from D.C.’s Improv was prepared to fill in the blanks with dirt (I’m guessing he got his material straight from Ellen), if it can ever be said that Gray has dirt on him. What you see is what you get, in spades. Nice, nice, nice.

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