Brian Roberts finds working in the kitchen relaxing.
Gregg Zaun likes the challenge of cooking for large groups.
And for Jeremy Guthrie, cooking reminds him of his years in Spain.
These Orioles, who make their living on the baseball field, told me that from time to time they like to kick back in the kitchen.
Yesterday, they were set to display some of their culinary prowess at an Orioles Cook-Off held at the ESPN Zone restaurant in downtown Baltimore to benefit the Maryland Food Bank.
The players brought different levels of experience to the endeavor. Roberts described himself as an apprentice, Guthrie a specialist and Zaun an old hand.
Roberts planned to make fish tacos, a dish he learned by watching his wife, Diana, prepare it.
Zaun, who as a teenager worked as a line cook in a restaurant in his Southern California hometown, touted his rendition of chicken enchiladas. This dish, he said, is known throughout the major leagues.
"It is so popular that my teammates from other teams are asking me to make trays of it when they come to town," said Zaun, who has played on seven different major league teams.
The enchiladas take longer to prepare than the 30-minute limit dishes in yesterday's lineup were supposed to adhere to, but Zaun contends the flavor it produces is worth the extra effort.
"You put a couple of those on a plate with a dollop of sour cream and maybe some hot sauce. ... It is tremendous," Zaun said.
Guthrie, 30, was reluctant to describe himself as a cook. But he said he was proficient at "making a few things," among them a dish he called a Spanish tortilla, a mixture of potatoes and egg. The dish is common in the north of Spain, a region he lived in during his two years of service for the Mormon Church.
In telephone interviews conducted from clubhouses and team buses in the days leading up to yesterday's cook-off, Roberts, Guthrie and Zaun talked about their cooking.
Roberts and Zaun said that it is primarily an off-season activity. The demands of travel and the fact that they usually work nights don't present them with many opportunities to make summertime suppers, they said. But in the fall and winter, when their daily routines somewhat resemble normal domestic life, they hang out in the kitchen.
Roberts, 31, said that in his bachelor days he would make occasional forays at cuisine, "messing around here and there in the kitchen." But since getting married last winter to former swimsuit model Diana Chiafair, he has become accustomed to the ritual of meal preparation.
"I like to hang out with my wife when she is cooking, watching her, taking in what she does," Roberts said. "You put on some music. You talk. For us, with our schedule as busy as it is, cooking is a quality time, a relaxing time together."
Zaun, 38, is a veteran catcher and cook. His parents taught him the basics of home cooking, he said, and he got his break at the age of 17 when he working as a prep cook in the Fender Bender restaurant in La Canada, Calif. When one of the regular cooks showed up too soused to work, Zaun was tapped to fill his spot in the lineup.
"They threw me on the line, I handled the Friday night rush, and from then on I had a spot in the rotation," he said. "I learned how to cook comfort food for a large amount of people, in a short amount of time."
Since those early days in a restaurant, Zaun has continued cooking at home, although he admits he has "a hard time cooking for two or for four." He prefers feeding large groups.
His Web site displays photos of several large Chinook salmon he caught during a fishing trip in Oregon.
"Those were real tasty," he said, and launched into a description of the way he cooked them. "I bake them, and put a molasses coating on them. Then I put on either an almond or a walnut crust. As the molasses cooks down, it makes the skin crispy and keeps the moisture in."
There are several key factors to success in making his well-known enchiladas, he said. First the chicken is cooked at a low simmer in a pot of liquid flavored with taco seasoning. Then, after the chicken is shredded and placed in the tortillas, it is covered with sharply flavored cheese. Finally, it is topped with enchilada sauce and heated.
"The sauce topping keeps the cheese from burning," Zaun said.
During the off-season, Zaun and his wife, Jamie, socialize with chefs who work in restaurants near their Cincinnati-area home.
"My wife used to work in a restaurant in Cincinnati, and a lot of her friends are chefs. In the off-season something is always going with food at our house."
Last year, Zaun said, "I learned to braise."
Brian Roberts' Cilantro-lime fish tacos
Makes: 4 servings
cup olive oil
teaspoon sea salt
teaspoon garlic powder
tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
Juice of 1 lime
8-ounce tilapia fillets
teaspoon hot sauce
cup diced tomatoes
cup diced jalapeno peppers
cup diced black olives
cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Place fish, olive oil, salt, garlic powder, cilantro and lime juice in a sealed plastic bag and marinate in fridge for at least 30 minutes or overnight.
Remove bag from fridge, and place contents in a skillet. Cook over medium heat for 8-10 minutes until fish is cooked through. Break fillets apart into small pieces in the skillet with a spatula.
Spoon cooked fish into taco shells.
Top with tomatoes, olives, cheese, peppers and salsa. Serve immediately.
Per serving: 495 calories, 22 grams fat, 7 grams saturated fat, 64 grams protein, 12 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 215 milligrams cholesterol, 840 milligrams sodium