These were not the kind of crab cakes Grandma made. They had peppers, and potato and cut-up bits of tomato in them.
They were served with basil leaves and zucchini blossoms and a latticework made of potatoes.
These were creative crab cakes made by chefs who had been golfing. They were very good.
I tasted these crab cakes at the Central Maryland Chefs & Cooks Association gathering last week at the Turf Valley Hotel and Country Club in Howard County.
After the chefs had whacked golf balls over the Turf Valley course, some of them went back to the hotel and hurried to the kitchen to whip up entries in an informal crab cake-making contest. I was one of three judges who ate the crab cakes and rated the seven entries on flavor, texture and presentation.
For most Marylanders, crab cake-making is a tribal ritual. The recipe is passed from cook to cook, usually with the admonition "Don't forget the secret ingredient."
These vary from family to family.
Any attempt to deviate from an ancient recipe is met with great indignation. Authoritative sources like the beliefs of long-dead ancestors or the recipe on the back of the Old Bay can, are cited. Rebellions are quashed before they get past the kitchen door.
However, these chefs did not treat the crab cake recipe as an untouchable.
Maybe it was because they were cooking on what should have been an afternoon off. Maybe it was because they were among friends. Anyway, they took a few risks and tried some new twists on the venerable old crab cake.
The winner turned out to be the crab cake seasoned with roasted peppers made by Sean Sims, executive chef of the host Turf Valley hotel. It had a delicate, sweet flavor. And it had a strange-looking companion. Sitting on the plate next to the crab cake was a cucumber that had been carved into the shape of a crab.
The second place crab cake was made by Jerry Edwards of Chef's Expressions catering. His had a straight-forward crab taste, and an arty looking companion, a latticework made of potato.
The crab cake made by Curtis Eargle, executive chef of the Maryland Club, won third place. It had pieces of tomato inside the crab cake and was served with crisp leaves of fried basil. It was quite a cake.
Unlike some food contests I had judged, there were no clinkers among these entries. I would have gladly carried home any of the runners-up.
The crab cake, for instance, made by Gilles Syglowski of the Baltimore International Culinary College, came inside a flaky puff pastry shaped like a crab.
The crab cake made by Audi Rehm of Rehm's Caterers was flat, almost like a pancake, served with lentils and cleverly topped with zucchini blossoms.
David York of Gibson Island Club served up a mountain of crab meat. The crab cake on his plate was flanked by towers of fried crab. The result was the World Trade Towers of crab meat. One plate could have fed a city.
And the crab cakes of David Taddeo of Chaimson food brokers, had a zingy flavor of green peppers.
The winners of the crab cake contest and the winners of the day's golf competition were announced during dinner.
As their colleagues cheered and jeered, the victors in both contests walked to the podium to pick up T-shirts and other prizes. The winning chefs also earned bragging rights, which they will probably exercise until next year, when the chefs have a new round of friendly competition.
Sean Sims winning crab cake
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup mustard
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 1/2 tablespoons Old Bay
1 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup minced roasted peppers
1 pound lump crab meat
1 1/2 cups freshly ground bread crumbs
2 tablespoons parsley
For base, combine mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice, Worcestershire, Old Bay, cayenne, and peppers in a mixing bowl.
Remove any shells from crab meat, reserving the lumps for a nice finished texture. Add fresh bread crumbs until crab meat begins to hold together. Then fold base mix into crab, adding just enough to make crab cakes hold their shape. Put cakes in greased baking pan and cook in 450-degree oven until golden brown, about 12 minutes.