They're look-alike brothers trying mightily to one-up each other in the same field. I refer not to the brothers Voltaggio, who emerged last week as Nos. 1 and 2 on "Top Chef," but to the brothers Hornbeck.
Former Maryland schools Superintendent David Hornbeck has two sons, born 20 months apart, who nurse a sibling rivalry akin to what Frederick-born Bryan and Michael Voltaggio betrayed on national TV.
Both Hornbeck boys are charter school principals in Baltimore. So instead of molecular gastronomy, their competition plays out in test scores and, oddly, facial hair.
"When something comes out from the district ... I pretty much find my own school [scores] and then look at his," said Mark Gaither of Wolfe Street Academy, who took his wife's name just to prove he's more feminist than his brother, Matt Hornbeck of Hampstead Hill Academy.
Said Matt: "Oh, yeah, when [state test scores] come out in July, it's who beat whom."
This month, they competed in a mustache-growing contest to raise money for schools. Mark won, raising $3,553. Matt was fourth with $1,715.
"Mine is, by friends' and family's account, a better-looking mustache," Matt insisted.
Matt, 42, has been a principal for seven years. Mark, 41, for five. Matt is the older, more restrained Bryan in the Voltaggio analogy while Mark is bad-boy Michael. Mark is not actually tattooed like the younger Voltaggio, but he has thought aboutgetting a tattoo, often sports a goatee and once dyed his hair orange. (He was shooting for blond, but a cheapie dye kit let him down.) Matt is clean-cut enough to marry Maria von Trapp, or rather, the woman who played her in a local production of "The Sound of Music," Ginny Hornbeck.
The brothers do help each other, as the Voltaggios did in the heat of "Top Chef" battle. Matt came to the rescue last fall when Mark's school fridge died.
"I called him up and said, 'I need 100 individual containers of milk in the back alley of your school in five minutes,' " Mark said.
Said Matt: "Four minutes later, he pulled his Subaru up and I gave him four or five crates of milk and convinced my food manager that he would make it good."
Their schools are among five run by the nonprofit Baltimore Curriculum Project, which gives a big trophy to its top performer. In front of Wolfe's student body last spring, Mark held the trophy aloft.
"OK, this is our goal," Mark announced. "I want us to show what we know, let everyone see how smart we are. And I want to beat the socks off of my brother's school."
In the end, Matt's school won.
"But we're coming back strong in the spring," said Mark.