Coastal Sunbelt chef brings taste of Howard to Buy Local cookout

Over the years, chef Martin Saylor of Coastal Sunbelt Produce Company in Savage has served crab salad rolls and rockfish imperial with tomato jam at Gov. Martin O'Malley's annual Buy Local Challenge Cookout.

When the annual event convenes July 25 in Annapolis, his offerings will be on the menu again — this time Chesapeake crab cakes with corncakes and Eastern Shore melon relish.

Saylor is confident he will have at least one fan: the governor's wife, Katie Curran O'Malley.

"The first lady has been really supportive," Saylor chuckled. "I think she likes crab."

This is the sixth year for the cookout, which encourages Marylanders to buy local produce, seafood and locally raised meats. All the ingredients Saylor will be using in his dish are Maryland-grown or, in the case of crabs, Maryland-caught.

"My crab cake is pure Maryland, and I'm putting it on top of a corncake … full of lots of peppers, onions and all good stuff from the Eastern Shore," he said. "I'm serving it with watermelon cantaloupe relish. It will be wonderfully refreshing."

Earlier this year, O'Malley invited chefs and producers to submit original recipes for the cookout. Some 25 recipes were submitted; and 14 were selected. Government House chefs will also provide two dishes for a total of 16.

In a statement, O'Malley said, "Buying local supports our farmers and our agricultural heritage, creates local jobs and local economies, and helps us create a greener, more sustainable Maryland."

Other items on the menu include appetizers such as Maryland corn fritters and rockfish sausage; entrees including bison ravioli in bay blue Mornay sauce; and Gertrude's Charlottetown farm ricotta doughnuts with peach caramel sauce for dessert.

The Buy Local Challenge was created in 2006 by the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission and has grown into a statewide initiative. The event coincides with Maryland's Buy Local Week, in which residents are encouraged to eat at least one locally grown, made or harvested product each day.

The cookout primarily taps restaurant chefs from around the state. That makes Saylor a bit of a novelty — though not a free-standing restaurant, Coastal Sunbelt Produce provides advice about produce, menu consulting and more to its client base, which includes restaurants, hotels and retailers.

As a corporate chef, Saylor said he's always researching new recipes to promote local produce.

"It is always a challenge — always," he said of his job for the past eight years. "We are a local Howard County company. [The cookout] showcases our company because we sell fresh produce and highlight what we have in Maryland."

Being responsible for a crab dish in Maryland might cause a few anxious moments, but Saylor expects the dish to be a hit. He's quick to credit Arnold Farms of Queen Anne's County and Rich Evanusa of Beach to Bay Seafood of Somerset County — those companies will provide the ingredients for his entree.

"The [cookout] is really to showcase the farmers and watermen," Saylor said. "We always get really good produce, and the crab meat, it's the best."

This is Sunbelt's fifth year at the event, and Saylor is honored that his entree was selected.

"It's not easy to get in," Saylor said of the cook-off. "They are very picky."

All of the recipes selected will be compiled in a recipe book that will be available free at the cookout and online. More information on local farms and farmers market is available at

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