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Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay joins volunteers to clean up Ellicott City as part of mystery special event

The next clue in the weeklong Ellicott City mystery special event was revealed Monday when celebrity chef and TV personality Gordon Ramsay burst out of the doors of the Little Market Cafe to the thunderous applause of about 200 residents in a parking lot just off Main Street.

At about 1 p.m., crew members were staging residents and local business employees in the exterior area surrounding Little Market Cafe. A heavy police and security presence helped direct traffic on Main Street in anticipation of what crew members in the parking lot were calling “a big surprise.”

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It is still unclear at this time what the project is.

Twenty minutes later, Ramsay stood on a black stage that poked into a parking space. As a drone buzzed above and crew members roamed the parking lot, headsets in tow, Ramsay began nearly 10-minute remarks with applause and cheers heard periodically throughout.

Ramsay is known for his TV shows in Great Britain and the United States, including “Hell’s Kitchen,” “Kitchen Nightmares,” “MasterChef” and “24 Hours to Hell and Back.” He also owns or operates more than 20 restaurants across the globe, including a steakhouse in Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore.

Later in the day, Hell on Wheels trucks were seen in Ellicott City. Those vehicles have been used for Ramsay’s show “24 Hours to Hell and Back.”

Among the crowd, employees of the Phoenix Emporium, Su Casa and Sweet Elizabeth Jane were gathered to take part in Monday’s portion of the weeklong special event the Howard County government announced on their Facebook page last week. The post said, in part, that the event would cause road closures, traffic disruptions and limited parking on Main Street from Feb. 21 through Feb. 28.

County Executive Calvin Ball, who declined to comment on the filming, was also part of the crowd.

Halfway through Ramsay’s remarks, military vehicles, police cars and construction trucks drove down the winding entrance to parking Lot D, and the crowd erupted in cheers.

Ellicott City resident Amy Friedman propped herself up on the exterior railing of the parking lot to watch the filming. She was in town to run a quick errand when she happened upon the excitement. After seeing the post on Howard County government Facebook page, Friedman thought the event was Saturday, not today.

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“I had come to pick something up and I’m like, ‘Oh, there’s no parking,’ ” Friedman said. “No one’s asked me to leave, so I’m just being nosy.”

She stuck around for nearly 40 minutes to watch the filming before departing.

Deirdre Citro, whose Ellicott City apartment is over the Matcha Time Cafe and overlooks parking Lot D, was also watching.

“This has been fun. We can watch the parking lot,” Citro said. “I think this is very exciting."

This is crazy!! I just signed a materials release for the Gordon Ramsay’s show to include the mural and me painting on his national TV show about Ellicott City!! 😱😱😱😱😱

Posted by Antonia Ramis Miguel on Monday, February 24, 2020

Over the weekend, Citro’s husband wandered into the part of the parking lot where the crew’s tents are. He was asked to leave, Citro said, but before going the crew members told him the event “will be very good for Ellicott City.”

“Ultimately if you bring in a lot of folks, whether it’s a one-time shot or a series, it brings good name recognition to the city because this is a great day-tourist place and it brings a lot of commerce in,” Citro said.

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Business owners with shops backing up to the parking lot said they welcomed the temporary inconvenience for the chance at needed updates to Main Street, an area still rebuilding after catastrophic floods in July 2016 and May 2018 caused severe damage and killed three people.

For the past week, community buzz has not broken the sealed lips of any county officials or local business owners, some of whom signed non-disclosure agreements and refused to answer any questions.

On Tuesday, local volunteers will commence on Main Street to wash windows, sweep streets, clip vines, weed and plant a garden from noon to 3 p.m.

According to emails obtained by Baltimore Sun Media, Howard EcoWorks sent a message last week looking for volunteers for “Ellicott City Extreme Makeover.” A few days later, an email was sent with details of the cleanup, including what to wear, where to show up and a notice to have all cellphones turned off.

The email, sent by Howard EcoWorks Executive Director Lori Lilly, also noted that Tuesday’s cleanup was one of several projects happening throughout the week. EcoWorks is a nonprofit that undertakes environmental improvement projects in the county.

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