John Barrett has spent a lot of summer days at Padonia Park Club, particularly in the pool, where his mother Mary Ellen Barrett has been a swim coach for 40 years.
He's still going there, with his two sons and a daughter, who compete on the swim team.
"Padonia has been a big part of our life," he said.
Next Saturday, Barrett, the owner of Barrett's Grill on Shawan Road, will need a pot instead of a swimsuit, fresh corn and crab meat instead of sunscreen, when he competes against other area chefs in a cook-off at the Old Bay Festival.
The festival at Padonia Park Club, celebrating the 75th anniversary of Maryland's favorite Old Bay, seafood spice is set for Saturday, Sept. 20, from noon to 6 p.m. with music, an Old Bay-themed menu and a cook-off featuring Padonia's chef and three other area chefs at 4 p.m.
"It's an end of summer kind of event," said Matt Musgrove, director of special events and catering at Padonia. "We wanted to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Old Bay."
The event seemed like a natural for the club. Old Bay is a favorite ingredient in many menu items, Barrett said. "Our culinary team uses a lot of Old Bay each year.
The centerpiece of the Old Bay Festival — which is expected to draw 500 people or more — is the cook-off. Competitors will include, in addition to Barrett, Liz Read, executive chef at Padonia, Patrick Morrow of Ryleigh's Oyster and Willy Dely of Kooper's North. They'll prepare chicken, shrimp, crab or a combination, spiked with Old Bay.
Barrett plans to make his restaurant's signature soup, a corn and crab chowder.
"We sell tons of it every day," said Barrett, who has owned the Hunt Valley restaurant with partner Mike Sipes since February 2011. Barrett recently opened his second restaurant, the Glyndon Grill, last October.
As for the other judges, they're keeping their plans quiet.
"It's kind of a secret," said Read, who has overseen the kitchen at Padonia for the past 14 years. "It'll be shrimp, and it'll be something fabulous."
Christian Robinson, chief of operations at Kooper's, wasn't telling either. The formally trained chef would only say, 'It's going to be very untraditional."
It's not on the menu now, he added, "but it may be in the future."
The fourth chef , Patrick Morrow of Ryleigh's Oyster North, could not be reached for comment.
Celebrity judges will include Debbie Phelps, executive director of the Education Foundation of Baltimore County Public Schools; Andrew Foust from McCormick & Co.; Dallas Dance, superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools; former Baltimore Orioles outfielder Al Bumbry; former Pro Bowl running back for the Baltimore Colts, Tom Matte; and possibly a member of the Ravens, according to Musgrove.
Located around the 30-acre property will be food and drink concessions and a Kid Zone. Music will be provided by Cara Kelly and the Tell Tale, a local indie rock band; Kate Fleming, a musician from Northwood; and Three Flights Up, a local band that also plays at the Church of the Nativity in Lutherville.
In addition, the park's splash pad will be open for children and the paddle boats will be available on the pond.
The festival is one of many special events held during the year at Padonia, Musgrove said. "People usually think of it as a swim club," he said. "There's so much about Padonia people don't know."
Company picnics, weddings and Bar Mitzvahs are also held there, along with a variety of public events. Last year, a Fall Festival benefiting the Cockeysville-Timonium Lions Club drew about 400 people.
Advance adult tickets for the Old Bay Festival are $18, and tickets for children aged 3-12 are $5.
A portion of the proceeds will benefit The Education Foundation of Baltimore County Public Schools and the Cockeysville-Timonium Lions Club.
Tickets are available in the club office as well as online through MissionTix. For information call 410-252-2046.