Lawmakers go dish-to-dish in charity cook-off competition

After the catering team brought out another batch of crab bisque, Yoho’s wife, Carolyn, took a tentative sip and remarked: “It’s closer, but not it.”

Despite some mild disappointments, the atmosphere remained fun and festive, with guests and competitors mingling merrily over a shared purpose: good food and helping babies.

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The 75th anniversary of the March of Dimes Gourmet Gala not only raised more than $1 million by the end of the night — it also brought awareness to the New Born Screening Saves Lives Act, reauthorizing federal activities that assist states in improving and expanding their newborn screening programs.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) appeared briefly and commended everyone involved.

“People talk about the gridlock in Washington,” he said in remarks to the crowd. “When it comes to the causes that come to Washington, D.C. — causes accompanying little kids — there’s an awful lot of bipartisanship that I see up here tonight.”

While Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) couldn’t make the cook-off because of a late vote, a booth was devoted to his white cheddar caramelized Vidalia onion grits recipe from his favorite Palmetto State restaurant. When asked how Graham must feel, knowing that everyone but him was enjoying his favorite dish, a member of his staff laughed, “He’s dying! Oh, he’s dying!”

Many members used recipes that were popular with their kids or that exemplified their state -- such as Sen. Mark Begich’s (D-Alaska) Polluck lettuce wraps and Rep. Ruben Hinojosa’s (D-Texas) Best in Show Award-winning guacamole. Some of the competitors added some tasty tidbits of information into their dishes as well.

“Ohio is the largest Swiss cheese producer,” said Rep. Robert Latta (R-Ohio) proudly, while describing the ingredients in his open-faced mini Reubens. “And don’t let Wisconsin tell you otherwise!”

No members from the Wisconsin delegation were there to disagree.

Del. Pedro Pierluisi (D-Puerto Rico) presented a traditional dish from his country.

“That’s the best Caribbean rice and chicken ever!” he exclaimed to one of the judges who was caught circling a mediocre score of “three” on the grading sheet.

Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R-Miss.) got lucky when it came to his People’s Choice Award-winning slow cooker grits with bourbon mushrooms.

“My wife found the recipe,” he said.

He speculated it was the bourbon that made it so popular.

“We had to convince all the northeasterners to try our grits!”

Fox News Channel anchor Bret Baier presented all of the awards, including the Regional Cuisine Award to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and his wife, Carolyn, for their bison sliders.

“Something tells me they were cost-effective,” quipped Baier.

Although not all of the lawmakers could be winners, the gala still ended on a sweet note — a dessert reception hosted by the event’s co-chairs, Julianne Chambliss, wife of Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) and Rep. Gene Green’s (R) wife, Helen — featuring delicacies from their home states of Georgia and Texas.

Photos: (left) Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) unveils his North Carolina sweet potato fritters with jalapeno molasses to Liz Roosevelt Johnston (great-granddaughter of March of Dimes founder, former President Franklin D. Roosevelt) and March of Dimes President Dr. Jennifer L. Howse/ Credit: March of Dimes

(right) Sen. Tom Coburn displaying his bison burgers. / Credit: March of Dimes

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