This is final Jeopardy; category, fake food:
"A bland, cheese-like food, rich in protein, coagulated from an extract of soybeans and used in soups, in various cooked dishes."
And the answer is: What is tofu?
As I traveled to Eldersburg Thursday, my stomach was a bit uneasy. I was about to visit the LiteTrends Co. Inc.
The company, opened by two Montgomery County men, was having its grand opening. Plans are to begin production of tofu products this week.
With apologies to LiteTrends Chairman Edward H. Walker II and President Andrew J. Wilks, I always have shied away fromtofu -- even the word sounds horrible. In my mind, the word conjuresup an image of a white and brown tasteless blob.
Walker, 37, and Wilks, 33, are confident they will find a niche for their products inthe market. As they talk about such benefits as it being a natural, low cholesterol and caloric product, it sounds . . . healthy.
Businesswise, however, despite the economic recession, the company is projecting sales of $770,000 (mostly to institutions) the first year with a production staff of six to eight employees, Walker says. The future calls for employing up to 30 people by the fourth year, with salesevenly split between institutional and retail (added in the second year) customers. The 6,000-square-foot plant could handle up to 10,000pounds of tofu daily.
But still, this is tofu -- not exactly a taste sensation. About as mouth-watering as a soy burger.
Larry Wilhelm, owner of Friendly Farm restaurant and past president of the Maryland Restaurant Association, was hired to cater snacks for the event.
While the vegetable tray and drinks were tofu-free, the meat for the pizza toppings and for the quesadilla fillings may have looked like real ground beef or pork, but were tofu.
Finally, I can't put it off any longer. It's taste-test time.
To my (pleasant) surprise,the pizza tasted good. Really. And the quesadilla also was just as good. It really did have the texture and flavor of meat.
And the many people in attendance had similar reactions. The three county commissioners ate up, as did other county, state and federal dignitaries, investors and other invited guests.
I also wanted to know how difficult it was to cook with tofu. So I caught Wilhelm off to the side, and found that while he never had used the product before, he found it easy to use.
"There was no messy beef or pork to fry up with allthat grease," he said. "I would consider using it myself."
Unlikefresh meat which can spoil, tofu (12 ounces retail for about $2.59) has a longer shelf life and can be frozen, he noted.
Overall, his impression was favorable.
So what did my taste buds learn from this experience? Well, while I won't stop buying beef and pork, when I happen to come across a tofu product, I won't automatically head in the opposite direction.
On a totally separate topic, congratulations to the 1,800 students at East and West Middle School in Westminster.
On Friday, March 13, they will be honored at a State House reception by Gov. William Donald Schaefer under his Maryland, You Are Beautiful campaign, for having made December's Hands for Hamlet project so successful.
As you may recall, the students collected money and gifts for 16 children who lost a parent in the tragic Sept. 3 food plant fire in Hamlet, N.C.
Westminster Mayor W. Benjamin Brown, who drove the $5,500 in presents to Hamlet and distributed them at a special Dec. 18 Christmas party, nominated the Westminster students for the well-deserved honor. Now, if only President Bush would come through with a Points of Light award.