Spate of culinary creativity indulges the palate


Last week, Charm City was all about chow. Seems as if every event was all about really great food.

Last Monday, the Family Tree threw its 13th annual Great Chefs' Dinner at the Grand Lodge in Hunt Valley. This year, Todd Gray, the chef at D.C.'s Equinox restaurant, created a five-course gourmet meal for about 350 folks; it included dishes such as early spring pea soup with lobster sausage, glazed breast of Muscovy duck and herb-roasted Australian rack of lamb.

But the evening's creativity didn't end with the grub. Party co-chairs Ellen and Doug Brinkley and Leslie and Zandy Campbell invited 30 local businesses to take charge of one dining table apiece and turn it into a visual experience. The architectural firm Ziger/Snead had 3-foot Lego men standing guard in the middle of one table. The Milk House made its table into a tropical oasis, complete with pink flamingos and palm trees. The Higinbotham Interiors table featured a bunch of birdhouses in the center, and each dining plate set into its own "nest." Maribou Home & Gift decked out its table in -- what else? -- maribou feathers. Boas and fluffy feather wings adorned each chair. The guests at the Lela Knight Interiors table didn't have to wait for dessert for sweets. Huge plastic cylinders were set up in the center, each filled with penny candy -- red hots, lemon balls and gummy bears.

'Steppin' Out'

On Thursday night, TurnAround Inc., a nonprofit counseling service, held its annual food fest, more commonly known as "Steppin' Out," in which the main attraction is the many food stations set up by more than 40 local restaurants and caterers.

This year, the theme was "Steppin' Out to Bawlmer, Hon." TurnAround's Shelly Terranova says that about 800 people turned out at the Wyndham Inner Harbor Hotel for the shindig -- among them such local celebs as Brooks Robinson, Artie Donovan and Sandy Unitas. The decor added lots of down home atmosphere. Shelly says a big backdrop looked like a formstone rowhouse with painted screens. There were motorized pink flamingos, a huge can of hairspray and a variety of guests sporting big beehive hairdos. Even some of the food (Cafe Hon's meatloaf and ketchup sandwiches) reflected the hometown feel.

'Elegant Pig Picking'

Moving on to Friday, and a foodie's nirvana. We're talkin' the International Association of Culinary Professionals Foundation's "Elegant Pig Picking -- Chef's Grand Prix." Six of the country's best-known chefs competed for the top prize as they created dishes of grilled pork tenderloin at the Baltimore Museum of Industry. The competitors? Would you believe Bobby Flay, Jacques Pepin, Steven Raichlen, Bruce Aidells, Jose Andres and Baltimore's own Cindy Wolf?

"It was awesome," says event coordinator Dara Bunjon. To say the least. She says all the contestants couldn't have been more pleasant to their fans, chatting with them and giving autographs, all the while madly cooking away. A tent in the back leaked when a thunderstorm hit, flooding part of the preparation area.

"Bobby Flay was hysterical," Dara says. "He told us, 'I'm not grilling this pork, I'm boiling it!'"

While the whole crowd didn't get to try the contest's results, six guests did, after winning the privilege of being the competition's judges in an earlier auction. Everyone else got to pig out (sorry, couldn't resist!) on a spit-roasted whole hog, pork ribs, pork butt, barbecue organic chicken, cornbread, coleslaw and strawberry shortcake.

Oh, by the way, the contest winner was none other than homegrown barbecue expert Raichlen (who went to Milford Mill High School), with his coffee-crusted pork tenderloin with red eye barbecue sauce.

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