Neighborhood group lights holiday tree

Homemade potluck dish in hand, a Top Chef finalist joined Foggy Bottom and West End residents at the seventh annual GW FRIENDS Holiday Social held Tuesday at the GW Hospital. The event also marked the lighting of a nondenominational holiday peace tree in the Eye Street Mall, located just outside the School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Carla Hall, a finalist on the fifth season of Top Chef, spoke at the GW-sponsored event to promote a restaurant she plans to open near Washington Circle. The restaurant is part of a redevelopment project for Stevens Elementary School. The project has been unpopular with the neighborhood groups because it also includes plans for a new apartment building, which residents fear will move more students off campus.

“We want to do this in a place with a strong community, and we want to become part of the community now,” Hall said, showing off homemade vegetable tangine and couscous with candied orange peel and pistachios.

Before Hall’s presentation, about 20 local residents and members of GW FRIENDS hung candy canes outside on the tree while listening to music and discussing the peace they would like to see in the coming year.

“Peace anywhere is great, but especially between GW and its neighbors,” said Michael Akin, executive director of Government, International and Community Relations.

GW FRIENDS, an organization created eight years ago, is composed of GW staff and local residents and was created with the intent to promote more communication and cooperation between the University and the surrounding community. Meetings are held once a month and alternate between business meetings and social events.

The Dec. 1 event attracted a wide range of people; some dressed in business suits and ties, others in sweats and baseball caps. A jovial atmosphere hung in the air as the holiday season commenced. Residents said more people attended the tree lighting this year compared to previous years because of the mild, clear Tuesday night.

“We really came here tonight to enjoy the gift of nature and share a little neighborliness,” said Roz Freund, a resident of St. Mary’s Court, an apartment building for senior citizens in Foggy Bottom. “The weather was so beautiful, and I’m Jewish, so the idea of lighting a peace tree was especially appealing.”

She described the event as inviting, adding “I guess we all need a little more spirit.”

Once the tree was lit, the residents brought their potluck dishes inside the GW Hospital for the Holiday Social. Balance, GW’s ballet group, performed selections from The Nutcracker, and Hall followed the dancers.

With an opening planned for 2013, Hall’s Alchemy Market and Café will provide catering, “to go” items and prepared foods throughout the day. The venue will also feature private event space for small parties, cooking classes and a job training program for culinary students.

“I will put my heart into the food and hope you get a healing back in return,” Hall said. “I want you to feel like I made this for you.”

“I carry with me my culture,” she said in reference to the dish she brought to the potluck. “My cuisine is soul food coupled with French culture. This is soul food in Morocco.”

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