Imagine the scene:
The end of the pier behind the National Aquarium, Baltimore Inner Harbor, this coming Monday evening. Under a huge, sparkling white tent, soft lights glow. Wildflowers in tall vases are surrounded by oyster shells and other shore artifacts.
Delicious aromas fill the air as 10 of America's most important chefs sizzle up their special dishes for lucky diners, who sit at tables with gleaming white linen and silver. Premier wines from such noted wineries as Alderbrook, Elk Run, Laurel Glen, Schramsberg and Guenoc fill glasses. As they sup, diners can take in the view: the Inner Harbor, the Science Center, Federal Hill, Harborview . . . Later on there'll be dancing to the music of Swing Central.
Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., will be serving Maryland crab cocktails with lemon mayonnaise. Paul Prudhomme of K-Paul's, New Orleans and New York, will be serving chicken etouffee. Larry Forgione of An American Cafe in Manhattan will be serving cedar-planked salmon with a Virginia-style sherry sauce with country ham and sunflower roots. Marty Cosgrove, of Oakbourne Country Club, Lafayette, La., will be serving Louisiana bread pudding with praline pecan sauce.
Stephen Pyles, of the Routh Street Cafe and Baby Routh in Dallas will offer smoked chicken on corn cakes with tropical black bean salsa. And Jimmy Sneed, of Windows on Urbanna Creek, Urbanna, Va., will offer his famous "sugar toads" -- sea squab or sea chicks -- in tempura batter with sweet red and yellow pepper sauces. "Crabbers catch 'em in crab pots," he says. "It's one of those fish that not a lot of people are real familiar with, but when you taste it, it's just so wonderfully sweet."
It's all to benefit the Chesapeake Bay Trust, a nonprofit &r organization that promotes bay preservation. The dinner was organized by Nancy Longo, chef at Pierpoint restaurant in Fells Point, and other members of the C.R.A.B. committee -- Chefs and Restaurant Advocates of the Bay. Already prospective guests are "ecstatic," Ms. Longo says, "at the fact that all these people will come here and do this. This is such a fabulous event for the foodies and for the environmentalists."
If there is a shadow across this festive setting, no one will need to look too far to find it. It is right there, in the water. Water, the healthiness of the nation's waterways and the quality and safety its fish and seafood are why the chefs are here. All share, besides a love of good regional food, a concern that failure to address environmental problems endangers the food supply of all Americans.
"The ecology and the land around us are the responsibility of all of us," says Mark Miller, who features "modern" Southwestern cuisine at his two restaurants in Sante Fe, N.M. and Washington. "All good chefs are concerned about the food supply -- not food wrapped up in the supermarket, but where it comes from. And the health of the food supply is directly related to the health of the environment."
Ms. Waters voices concern that "people somehow are not making the connection between the land and water resources and the food they put in their bodies." Not only chefs, but all people should take the responsibility of education and support for environmental programs, she said. "We have to work at finding and supporting people who are taking care of our natural resources and turn away from people who are not," she says.
"The Chesapeake is really in trouble," says Jasper White, whose Boston restaurant Jasper's is credited with putting the "New" back into New England cuisine. "We see it first hand. We bring a lot of Chesapeake seafood into the [Boston] area, and I've really seen a deterioration in quality."
Like all his colleagues, Mr. White sees a major role for chefs in championing environmental issues. "It's the neighborly thing to do," he says, "to raise the consciousness and awareness of an incredible resource that is threatened."
Another chef with close sympathies for waterway preservation is Mr. Prudhomme. "Louisiana has 40 percent of the country's estuaries," he points out. "I know the struggle those life-producing areas have been through. Chesapeake Bay has such historical value."
"We have to keep the bay clean," says Roberto Donna, who has two award-winning restaurants in Washington -- Galileo and I Matti Trattoria. "We use crab, everything, all kinds of fish [from the bay]. It's a very important source for freshness. All the chefs and all the consumers should be concerned about it."
"Besides hunger relief, the other thing I think chefs should be involved in" is environmental quality concerns," says Mr. Pyles. While he uses mostly gulf seafood in his cuisine, where "the water is not that bad," he says, "Who knows how long that will last?"