When Weber's opened in Canton last year, longtime resident Marylynn Lynch remembers admiring the updated tavern, with its muted colors, mahogany bar and patterned tin ceiling. But she never expected to eat there.
"It's kind of expensive, especially when you've got three kids," said Ms. Lynch, 30. "I don't go out much. But I did go in once, just to see what it looks like."
But yesterday, Weber's came to Ms. Lynch, one of nine participants in the Canton neighborhood's Super Pantry, a program designed to teach women how to feed their families on limited budgets.
In the kitchen at the United Evangelical Church on Dillon Street, Weber's executive chef Bob Morgan showed the women how to make chicken-vegetable paella. The richly seasoned dish would have been at home at his restaurant, which features entrees such as Grilled Mahi-Mahi and Anchorage Pasta.
But unlike the restaurant's main dishes, which cost $8 to $13 apiece, the paella cost less than $6 for a family of four.
"It was pennies under $1.50 per person," said Mr. Morgan, wearing his chef regalia for the cooking class. "And it would have been even less if zucchini had been in season."
With money from the Maryland Food Committee, 12 churches and community groups statewide have set up the so-called Super Pantries.
At a cost of about $2,000 per 10-week session, volunteers help women who have been relying on food pantries learn how to stretch their food dollars through better planning. The money goes to pay for supplies and food; the women do not pay to participate.
Started in 1989, Maryland's Super Pantry program was praised last fall by the World Institute on Hunger and Development as one of the nation's "ideas that work."
Alice March, the statewide coordinator, began the program in Catonsville after noticing that the same people kept returning to the emergency food pantry month after month.
But bringing a chef into the mix was a new idea. It came from Lucie Mercer, who runs the Super Pantry at United Evangelical. "I invited him [Mr. Morgan] because he was in this community," Ms. Mercer said. "Most of the people here don't have the opportunity to eat at a place like Weber's."