When Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley hosts the state's Buy Local Cookout on July 21 at Government House, the governor's residence in Annapolis, a few flavors from Towson and Timonium will be on the menu.
The cookout is intended to launch Maryland's Buy Local Challenge Week, July 23 through 31, during which residents are encouraged to eat at least one locally grown, made or harvested product each day.
Of the 30 recipes submitted by Maryland chefs for the event, 17 were chosen for the invitation-only event in which chefs vie to take part in the feast.
Towson and Timonium are represented among the lucky 17, including Bill Crouse, who has been executive sous chef for about two months at Chef's Expressions, a catering company on Deereco Road, in Timonium.
Using local produce is not a minor point for the 31-year-old Canton resident.
"It's probably the most important thing for me to care about," Crouse said.
That's because buying fish, meat and crops from local producers creates less pollution than food shipped to Maryland from elsewhere, and it supports the local economy, he said.
"And it makes me seasonably change the menu based on what's available," Crouse said.
Crouse is concerned about pollution. When a crate of eggs travels from the Midwest to Maryland via truck, it not only creates more engine exhaust before reaching the kitchen – as opposed to a local delivery – it also allows greater opportunity for accidents, oil spills and other sources of pollution, he said.
"We all need to think about the pollution, and more travel means more pollution altogether," he said.
Crouse cares about local growers because he grew up rubbing elbows with them in Churchville, in Harford County. He remembers going to church with local farmers, and after church "all the tailgates would come down."
Corn farmers would exchange a few ears for eggs from a chicken farmer, or milk for vegetables, right there outside the church.
"It's just a good way to live," Crouse said.
That passion for local farms aided Crouse's entry in the contest. The governor invited chefs to team up with local food producers for the event. Crouse chose lamb from Springfield Farms in Sparks, in northern Baltimore County, where Chef's Expressions regularly buys eggs.
"I picked Springfield Farms because they're one of my favorite local farms," he said.
With the lamb as the core of his recipe, Crouse created a roulade of spring lamb with pine nuts and apricots, and an heirloom tomato gazpacho.
The gazpacho Crouse created was influenced by John Walsh, executive chef of Chef's Expressions.
"His gazpacho has a nice zing that would go with the lamb," Crouse said.
Walsh, 54, lives in York, Pa., and has been with Chef's Expressions for about eight years. Buying local produce for the dinner table is also how Walsh grew up.
"I was green before it was hip to be green," he said.
Born in Orleans, France, Walsh spent about 25 years in France, Switzerland, England and Belgium before moving to the United States in 1982. As a child on a farm in France, his grocery store was his backyard or the neighbor's backyard.
"When we wanted eggs, I went to the chicken coop to get eggs," Walsh said. "The dairy was just down the street — it was just the normal way of doing things."
Though he earned a degree in international finance from the University of London, Walsh said he was meant to be a chef.
"My father and my mother knew that that's what I should have been all the time," he said.
Walsh conceded that not everything is available from local growers, but he gets what he can when he can.
"I go to the Towson (farmer's) market … to get my tomatoes and corn when it's available," he said.
He also patronizes Gunpowder Bison & Trading Co., in Monkton, as well as Trickling Springs Creamery, in Chambersburg, Pa.
His local enthusiasm is why Walsh so enjoys the Buy Local Cookout.
"The one thing I love about the governor is that he puts this event together," he said. Chef's Expressions prepared two items for last year's cookout, which Walsh described as "a great time."
Walsh knew O'Malley liked Heineken beer, so he brought some to the cookout. "The governor came by, had a cold one with us," Walsh said.
Towson native and Catonsville resident Bryan Davis didn't attend last year's cookout, but his brined cherry barbecue chicken was selected for this year's event.
A 1986 Towson High School graduate and student of then-Towson State College, Davis grew up in Rodgers Forge and is a chef at the Classic Catering People on Painters Mill Road in Owings Mills.
"I became a chef when I was 19, but I've been working in kitchens since I was 15," Davis said.
Davis has worked at Classic Catering for about seven years. He left the company at one point, but returned about a year ago because Classic Catering started focusing on buying organic food.
For the Buy Local Cookout, Davis is getting his chicken from farmer Lynne Ferguson of Ferguson Family Farm, on Beckleysville Road, in Parkton.
"People just aren't exposed to this end of the industry," Davis said. "I'm seeing how the chickens are being raised and the pigs are raised."
Ferguson's chickens are grain-fed and free range, and no chemicals are used to enhance their growth, according to the farm's website.
Though the Buy Local Cookout has helped Davis learn about healthy farming practices, he was already sold on the economic benefits of buying locally produced goods.
"It's better for the (local) economy, and it's better for the state to keep it local," he said.
Davis plans to go to work on the chickens the day after they're butchered. He'll brine them before cooking to tenderize the meat and so the sugar and salt work their way throughout the meat.
"It's fall-off-the-bone tender," Davis said.
Though the Buy Local Cookout is an awareness event to encourage people to eat food produced nearby, Davis sees it not as a stunt, but as a step toward a better way of living.
"If you could have a restaurant where you could walk into your backyard and pick your vegetables to serve that night, that's the ideal," he said.