Chef-restaurateur Mark Miller has a menu, which might
include such dishes as butternut painted soup, buttermilk corn cakes with smoked chili shrimp, wood-roasted Virginia golden trout, sizzling tuna with spinach and yellow mole and a dessert of plum tart.
But the man who runs Red Sage in Washington. D.C., and the Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe, N.M., also has an agenda, and it includes an active interest in the environment and in the quality of the nation's food supply.
"The ecology and the land around us are the responsibility of all of us," Mr. Miller said before a visit to Baltimore in September as one of 10 celebrity chefs serving dishes at a dinner to benefit the Chesapeake Bay Trust. Mr. Miller will be returning to Baltimore Dec. 3 for a cooking demonstration at the Baltimore International Culinary College.
"All good chefs are concerned about the food supply," Mr. Miller said. "Not in the supermarket all wrapped up, but where it comes from.
"We look at food too often as a commodity," Mr. Miller said. "We don't look at it as a living thing. As a result, our food supply has become completely artificial.
"All ethnic diets are nutritionally correct," he contended. "Only the American diet is without value, and most damaging nutritionally and ecologically."
Nancy Longo, chef-owner at Pierpoint in Fells Point who was one of the organizers of the Chesapeake bay benefit, said she invited Mr. Miller "because I had heard great things about Coyote Cafe and since he was going to be in this area [with Red Sage], I thought it would be fun to have him." When Mr. Miller arrived, Ms. Longo says, "We took him to Fells Point and out to eat crabs. He seemed to like Baltimore."
The food Mr. Miller serves -- described by Esquire magazine as "Southwestern cuisine, even when he has to make it up" -- is a direct response to his concern about what people put on their plates.
Mr. Miller, in his early 40s, studied anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley in the mid-'60s; it was there, he writes in a brief autobiography, that he began a "life-long love affair" with food. He started a food newsletter and cooked with Alice Waters xTC at famed Chez Panisse in Berkeley. He opened his first restaurant, Fourth Street Grill, in Berkeley, in 1979, and a year later opened another featuring Southwestern-style cuisine. In the mid-'80s, he decided to develop his "modern Southwestern cuisine" in the Southwest, and opened the Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe.
Red Sage opened in 1992 -- with a benefit, not unexpectedly, for the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian Institution -- and quickly became the hottest dining ticket in D.C. Washington Post Magazine restaurant critic Phyllis Richman, who gave the restaurant a grudgingly favorable review ("You're probably going to try Red Sage no matter what. So what can I tell you about it that you won't find out on your own?"), noted that Cabinet members, D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly and even President George Bush have had to compete for reservations.
Tickets are still available for his demonstration from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 3, at the culinary college's demonstration theater at 206 Water St. Cost is $10 a person and the money goes toward the school's library and scholarship fund. Seating is limited and reservations are required. Tickets may be bought at the college bookstore, 204 Water St., or call (410) 752-4983 to reserve tickets with MasterCard, Visa or American Express.