Be on the lookout for a strange social phenomenon that will be taking place this week in Baltimore restaurants.
Groups of men and women will make reservations at some of the area's most renowned eateries. As many as 20 will dine together, following the same unwritten rule book. No two people at the table are permitted to order the same thing. When the food arrives, each person is required to take a single bite and pass the plate to the next person until everyone has tasted every dish. A few of the diners may suddenly pop up from their seats to take photographs of what they are about to eat. Others may be frantically writing impressions of the decor and cuisine in notebooks.
Who are these people? And what are they doing here?
The Newspaper Food Editors and Writers Association, an international group of food journalists, is holding its annual convention at the Harbor Court Hotel through Saturday. Sixty-three food journalists have come to learn about the foods of the Chesapeake region -- from silver queen corn to the bounty of the bay.
"I think we'e all excited about coming to Baltimore, a city and region that has a reputation for fine food history with so many rich resources such as the wonderful seafood in the Chesapeake Bay and the agricultural bounty in the surrounding areas," says Dan Puzo, NFEWA president and staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. "We have not had a conference on the East Coast in several years and it will be fun for everyone to experience eastern cuisine and eastern hospitality."
In fact, the conference will give them a complete overview of our regional food -- from speakers who will tell them the history of why we eat what we eat to demonstrations on how to cook everything from an authentic Maryland crab cake to stuffed ham.
They will sample the best food the region has to offer. Executive chef Michael J. Rork and his staff at the Harbor Court Hotel will serve a luncheon of new wave Maryland food featuring Maryland fried oysters on spinach with fennel-herb butter, pheasant breast in rice paper with Boordy Vineyard peach cider sauce and a dessert with the tantalizing name Chesapeake in chocolate.
Tonight's "Taste of Maryland" will showcase a sampling of signature dishes from 11 of the area's top restaurants as well as local beer and wine. Friday night there will be a down-home "Crab Feast," sponsored by The Baltimore Sun, where they will eat home-style Maryland crab soup, sauteed soft shell crabs in pita pockets, baked crab cakes and steamed stuffed crabs.
Other stops include the McCormick & Co. plant in Hunt Valley for a curry tasting and spice lecture and the 1840 House for herbal demonstrations on vinegars, spreads and butters, potpourri and punch. Robert Parker will speak on "The Marriage of Wine and Food."
But in the '90s, food writers have more on their plates than merely recipes. They also report on consumer and environmental issues.
The highlight of the program is a panel discussion on food labeling with Dr. David Kessler, U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner, who will debate the agency's tougher stand on food labeling with legislative, consumer and industry representatives. They also will hear a discussion on "Where Have all Our Fish Gone: The Plundering of Our Coastal Waters," in which a chef, environmentalist, government and industry spokesmen discuss the problem of telling people to eat more fish for better health while the resources are dwindling.