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Baltimore chef heads to the Super Bowl to fight hunger

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The Ravens won't be able to repeat as Super Bowl champions, but that doesn't mean that there won't be a Charm City presence at the big game this weekend.

Nancy Longo, chef of Pierpoint, a Fells Point restaurant, will pack her hat, utensils and enough crab meat to feed thousands, to join 31 other chefs from NFL cities in a Super Bowl challenge of sorts put on by the nonprofit Taste of the NFL.

Longo and the other cooks will take part in the "Party With A Purpose" on Saturday in Brooklyn. It's the annual cooking exhibition and auction held in or near the Super Bowl city — this year to be played at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

At Party With A Purpose, attendees fork over $700 to sample the wares of chefs like Longo, who represent each of the league's 32 teams and prepare regionally popular dishes that are paired with the appropriate wine. It's also a chance for the public to rub shoulders with current and former NFL players.

Longo's Chesapeake Bay crab cakes and greens with a bacon remoulade will be served alongside such dishes as Dallas chef Kent Rathbun's Szechuan pepper-crusted Creekstone strip steak and the maple-braised beef short rib offering of San Francisco chef David Lawrence.

"People love food and people love sports," said Longo. "It's a perfect mix of two different people who can say, 'I can give back.' "

Longo has been involved with Taste of the NFL for the past 16 years.

"I love her," said Wayne Kostroski, a Minnesota-based restaurateur who founded Taste of the NFL in 1992. Party with a Purpose "is fun, but she's doing it because of the seriousness of the issue in her community."

When Kostroski came to the Baltimore area in 1996 looking for a civic-minded chef, it didn't take long for people to point him toward Longo. She has had a lot of experience at raising money through food, having previously conducted fundraisers for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Our Daily Bread.

Over the years, Longo has taken up the mantle of raising money for the hungry and undernourished with the ferocity of a linebacker. She has finished in the top three among NFL chefs in terms of funds raised in each of the past three years.

"There are so many layers to being a chef, and there's the part where you think, 'It should be my job to feed everybody.' " Longo said. "So I need to feed people that are homeless, people who are getting off drugs. I need to go feed people to raise money for the [Maryland] Food Bank, so that those folks can eat, too."

Qadry Ismail, the former Ravens wide receiver who will partner with Longo at the Brooklyn party for a fourth time, understands why so many current and former players are willing to donate auction items and their time to this cause.

"I know what it's like growing up and not having food on the table," said Ismail, an analyst on Ravens radio broadcasts, who grew up in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. "You know what it feels like to be like, 'My stomach is hurting,' and you're a little boy, a bundle of energy ready to go out and play, but you can't because you don't feel like it."

Although there probably won't be a huge number of Marylanders at the Super Bowl this weekend, the general public can still support the cause through the Kick Hunger Challenge, an online campaign. Kostroski said all donations made on behalf of the Ravens will go to the Maryland Food Bank and that every dollar raised translates into eight meals.

"They [the food bank] can buy so much more food with cash that can reach out to so many more hungry people," said Longo.

The food bank in the city that raises the most money through Friday will receive a $10,000 bonus, with the runner-up city getting $5,000, Kostroski said.

For Longo, a large part of the lure of participating in Taste of the NFL is the chance to merge the food portion of her life with the athletic side, which was nurtured by her late father, Joey Longo, a flyweight boxer.

Her dad, who died after her first trip to the Super Bowl, once got a friend — former light heavyweight champion Archie Moore — to teach her how to barbecue. Those lessons were early indicators that food and sports could go hand-in-hand.

"I believe in the sports players and the food people coming together to do this," said Longo.

In addition to tasting the food, spectators can bid on auction items that have been donated by current and former NFL players and other athletes.

Though the admission may be priced beyond the range of the usual NFL fan, Kostroski said the Super Bowl eve party is a "culinary Robin Hood of Super Bowl weekend," as it redistributes money from the well-heeled to those who need it.

"People will spend a lot of money at the Maxim and Sports Illustrated parties and other parties, but this is the only event during Super Bowl weekend that is 100 percent focused on raising money and giving it away," said Kostroski.

All of the unconsumed food that is still good goes to food shelves in the area that night, and all of the proceeds from the evening are distributed among the cities, Kostroski said.

The 2010 party in the Dallas area raised a record $1 million, and organizers hope this year's party, to be held in a 140,000-square-foot facility in the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, will exceed that mark.

Though the Super Bowl party takes place in a supposedly noncompetitive setting, Kostroski says some of the chefs get "sore necks" from trying to see what their colleagues have prepared.

If history holds, Longo and Ismail figure to have some time to see and taste what the other stations have to offer. That's because her station traditionally is the first to run out of food, no matter how much she prepares.

"Wayne and the people who put it together came to Baltimore and said, 'We're looking for a chef that's charitable and makes crab cakes,' " said Longo with a laugh. "I guess they really like the crab cakes."

If you'd like to learn more, visit tasteofthenfl.com. If you'd like to make a donation, visit kickhungerchallenge.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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