Food & Drink

Table Talk: Old Bay goes big in Baltimore

Old Bay is painting Baltimore blue and gold. The indispensable seafood spice blend is being celebrated with the Summer of Baytriotism, a season-long celebration of the Baltimore-born shelf staple and the iconic tin can its shaken from.

A visual highlight of the promotion, which includes Baltimore-centric billboards and a series of nostalgic "Old Bay Radio" ads, was unveiled Thursday morning — the PMI Garage on the corner of Pratt and President streets has been crowned with what's being billed as the world's largest Old Bay can.

The oversized can of Old Bay is set to stay on display for one year, according to Jill Pratt of McCormick & Co., the Hunt Valley-based spice company that purchased the Old Bay brand in 1990. "We'd like it to stay up longer," said Pratt. "So we'll see."

The culinary centerpiece of the promotion is Taste of Baytriotism, a week-long restaurant promotion that will feature specially created menu items made with the 70-year-old iconic seasoning, which is credited to German immigrant Gustav Brunn. The Taste of Baytriotism will run June 22-30.

Twenty restaurants statewide squaring off to win bragging rights and 70 pounds of Old Bay — in honor of the company's seven decades of flavor. The most innovative menu will be judged by former Baltimore Sun columnist Rob Kasper and a panel of Old Bay experts.

An amateur competes Chef Helene Leeds, a health coach in Baldwin, continues to compete on "Masterchef," the FOX cooking competition hosted by Gordon Ramsay.

Although Leeds was not featured prominently on the audition episodes, she was among the 36 hopefuls awarded the "coveted white apron," basically a ticket to the next round. On Monday night, she survived a brutal cut to make it to the Top 18.

A former plus-size model, Leeds admits that competing on "Masterchef" wasn't a burning ambition. "But I am incredibly passionate about the ability of food to transform lives," she said. "My mother died of obesity and I was an obese child." Leeds hopes to expose a larger audience to the lessons she's learned about healthy eating.

For her pre-show audition, she prepared truffles using one off her favorite "superfoods" — raw chocolate. "Raw chocolate is amazing, and they were divine and decadent," Leeds said, "but they looked like turds."

The show kept calling her back, Leeds said, and eventually she was chosen from the 30,000 applicants to compete for a white apron in the on-air audition round.

For the judging panel, Leeds made her Medicinal Mushroom Aphrodisiac Soup, an "outrageous" all-raw silky stew crammed full of medicinal mushrooms and other "superfoods." which she served with a kale salad with mulberries, cacao and maca powder.

You can watch Leeds compete for the $250,000 "Masterchef" grand prize Monday and Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. on FOX TV stations.

Comings & Goings Clayton Miller has been named the new executive chef at Wit & Wisdom, A Michael Mina Tavern. He takes over from Benjamin Lambert at Mina's restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore.

There are some impressive bullet-points on Miller's resume, most notably Thomas Keller's famed French Laundry in Yountville, Calif. Most recently Miller was the executive chef at Trummer's on Main in Clifton, Va., where he was recognized as one of Food & Wine's Best New Chefs of 2010.

Miller's official start date at Wit & Wisdom is July 5, but changes have already started appearing on the lunch and dinner menus. And the patio is now open for business.

Dark Dining Guests at a Thursday night dinner honoring former Maryland governor Bob Ehrlich and former Ravens all-pro place-kicker Matt Stover will dine in complete darkness. The event, called Dining in the Dark, is hosted by the Foundation Fighting Blindness, a Columbia-based national nonprofit focused on life-saving research.

Described as "a distinctive sensory awareness experience," diners at the Baltimore Hilton will take their entree course "using only their senses of smell, sound, taste and touch to get a glimpse into the lives of the blind." The course will be served by visually impaired servers, using a system of ropes and stanchions, who have been trained specifically for the dinner.

Created in Germany, Dining in the Dark events have become increasingly popular in the United States.

Tickets for the dinner are $350. For ticket and sponsorship information, contact Nicole Ossola at 443-875-3886.