For the last three months, some of the best food in this city was not served in a restaurant but from the sides of catering trucks.

Grilled swordfish and mango salsa, fillet of beef with bearnaise sauce, pasta primavera, Caesar salads, Key lime pie, fresh fruit tarts and chocolate brownies were among the tempting dishes prepared for the stars, cast and crew of Ladder 49, the action movie starring John Travolta and Joaquin Phoenix, which wrapped up shooting last week.

The chef behind these creations was Mara Kerum, 34, who has been feeding actors and production crews on location for 15 years.

Kerum, a native of Croatia who attended culinary school at France's Le Cordon Bleu, oversaw a team of five chefs feeding 200 to 300 people a day, five days a week.

"I have the perfect job in the food business. I love what I do. I get to make creative food for people who really appreciate it," said Kerum, who works for Tony's Catering, a company her uncle, Tony Kerum, started in California 20 years ago.

Her credits include catering movies starring Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis and Robert De Niro.

Cooking for movie stars isn't all glamour and glitz, however. Extremes of rain and cold, heat and humidity, surprising delays and changes of location are constants. But Kerum is never frazzled, always the quiet center in the middle of the daily whirlwind.

Ten days before the movie about firefighters started filming in mid-March, Kerum and her crew drove a caravan of trucks across the country from Chatsworth, Calif., to Baltimore.

One truck was equipped for cooking, another was refrigerated and the third transported and stored equipment, including the biggest and best portable grills available. Wood-grilled fish, poultry and meat are the company's specialties.

After arriving, Kerum lined up her purveyors and was happy to find that she could get all the supplies she needed in Baltimore.

"It is a pleasure working here because I can accommodate everyone," she said. "It makes it much easier when you have good resources."

Within a couple of weeks, she and her crew had learned everyone's name and food preferences. On this set, there were no personal chefs, so while the stars may have eaten in their trailers, they ate the same food as the rest of the cast and crew.

"Hands down, she is the best in the business," said Ladder 49 publicist Peter Silbermann. "The meals are always delicious and if you aren't in the mood for one thing, there is always something else that's perfect -- an embarrassment of riches."

Kerum was given a standing ovation by 200 people at the wrap party given at Red Tapas last week. Her fans included director Jay Russell and Travolta who, she said, is fond of her beef Wellington.

The caterers usually began work three hours before the actors were on the set. That meant starting anywhere from 4 a.m. until noon, and often working 16-hour days serving two meals.

When their day was done, they drove the trucks to the back lot of a large hotel where a hired crew washed the dishes so everything was ready for the next day.

As daunting as Maryland summers may be, Kerum said her worst catering experience was with the film Six Days, Seven Nights in Hawaii several years ago.

"We would load the trucks and start going down a single-lane road to the beach where Harrison Ford and Anne Heche were working," she said. "If we met a truck coming up, we had to back up and let them get to the top before we could go down and feed the crew. That was rough. There are places that are physically hard but I don't take obstacles seriously anymore."

Kerum said she isn't star-struck. "I treat them all the same, Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis, Robert De Niro. ... " Her voice dropped; clearly, she didn't want to be name-dropping.