This past spring, as diners masticated on prime Hereford beef filet mignon and gazed through the windows of the Watergate Hotel's Aquarelle restaurant onto the placid Potomac, they were doing more than enjoying a night out — they were raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Christophe Poteaux, who moved to Hamilton and took over as chef at the Aquarelle a year ago, kickstarted his tenure in the area by participating in the Man & Woman of the Year Awards. The fundraising contest is put on annually by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
As part of his fundraising efforts, Poteaux donated a dollar from the cost of each entree and $5 from a three-course meal to the society for the 10-week duration of the contest. In addition, he arranged for benefits to be held in the Watergate's convention facilities, as well as auctioning himself off to cook at the top bidder's home. How much for a seven-course meal for 10 served in the convenience of the winner's home? Just $4,250.
In total, Poteaux raised $12,000 for the society. While he didn't win the overall contest (the top fundraiser pulled in $52,000), it was rewarding for the Frenchman, who is originally from the outskirts of Paris.
"I'm always looking for new things to do. I get bored easily," Poteaux said. "I find myself in a position where I can help people fairly easily in my line of work."
THE MAN & Woman of the Year Awards does two things, according to Tammy Moloy, deputy executive director of the National Capitol Area Chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
"It's kind of a fundraising campaign, but also it does a great service in the community because it spreads public awareness," Moloy said.
For Poteaux, participating in the campaign was also about raising public awareness in addition to helping cure blood cancers — raising awareness, that is, for the Aquarelle, a restaurant that has undergone a series of chef and name changes in recent years.
"Being the new chef in town, nobody knows me," Poteaux said.
Since moving to the United States in 1997, Poteaux has worked in a series of major metropolises: New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia. While assuming the top spot at Aquarelle in Washington fits Poteaux's modus operandi, living out in one of Loudoun's quieter locales with his wife and baby daughter has its perks too.
"I'm happy that I'm living where I do because it's a peaceful area compared to the crazy life I have," he said. "It's beautiful and when I go in my backyard, I hear nothing."
Poteaux is working to distinguish Aquarelle, which has already opened and closed once since its establishment in 1996. He describes the ambiance as "upscale, but still relaxed" and the food as "French Mediterranean with an American twist."
"I've been in the country long enough now, I have other influences besides my French and Mediterranean roots," Poteaux said.
Poteaux blends Italian, African and Spanish tastes with more domestic ingredients to come up with dishes like roasted free range chicken breast with garlic pommes puree and grilled summer squashes — one of the summer menu's less expensive items at $23.
"I'm very proud of the quality of ingredients I use. It would change with the season," he said. "I'm very picky."
HIS ATTENTION to detail has won the Aquarelle accolades already: Poteaux has been invited to cook an Aquarelle dinner at New York City's James Beard House in February, a nod reserved for well-respected chefs.
When it comes to participating with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, however, it wasn't just for the recognition for Poteaux, according to the Man & Woman of the Year campaign manager Mary Angelo.
"He was a joy to work with entirely," Angelo said. "He was in the campaign for all the right reasons."