The bay benefited, and so did anyone who likes to eat

HAPPY EATER

September 19, 1993|By ROB KASPER

The sizzling salsa on the duck sausage gave my lips the biggest tingle they had had since my high school prom. The curried chicken spring rolls with ginger dipping sauce had more spring than Michael Jordan. And the barbecued quail marinated in a cinnamon sauce made me want to curl my toes and holler "Gimme more."

And there were plenty more barbecued quail and other good eats at the Dinner for the Chesapeake, a fancy fund-raiser held BTC Monday night behind the National Aquarium. It was the second year that Nancy Longo, chef of Pierpoint Restaurant and head of Chefs and Restaurant Advocates for the Bay (CRAB), had put on a highfalutin feed by teaming up chefs from around the country with local restaurant chefs. Proceeds of the $200-a-plate dinner went to the Chesapeake Bay Trust, a non-profit organization that gives grants to projects designed to clean up the bay.

A crowd of about 325 finely dressed folks moved from cooking station to station under a tent set up behind the National Aquarium. Last year there were spells of gridlock at the buffet as a big crowd of about 400 and a shortage of clean plates hampered food flow. But this year there were plenty of plates and little waiting in line. It was a such a gorgeous night, with balmy winds and starry skies, that even the waters of Baltimore's harbor, not exactly the cleanest stretch of water in creation, looked positively fetching. Proof, I guess, that everything and everybody looks good in black.

Mostly I moseyed around the edges of the tent, eating and trying to get the secrets behind the sizzle. The sauteed soft crab, for instance, served up by the team of Larry Forgione of Manhattan's An American Place restaurant and Randy Stahl of the Brass Elephant, had an unusual sauce. According to the recipe printed in a booklet passed out at the event, the sauce was made by simmering a mess of ingredients, including country ham trimmings, fish stock, sunflower roots and cream. I decided making this was like those tricks stunt-car drivers perform -- not something amateurs should try at home.

I learned, for instance, that one of the tips to making the salsa that will make your taste buds twitch is to burn the tomatoes on the barbecue grill. Sisson's chef Bill Aydlett didn't believe Chris Swinyard of Washington's Red Sage restaurant the first time Swinyard told Aydlett to blacken the tomatoes. But eventually Aydlett was convinced, and the two of them whipped up a salsa that gave new meaning to the term "pouting lips."

Some of the ingredients came in from out of town, along with the chefs. The fried oysters with lemon and rosemary came from Louisiana, along with Susan Spicer, of New Orleans' Bayona restaurant. They were terrific, even for out-of-town oysters. The great big grilled shrimp, brushed with oils laced with chili peppers, came from Texas. So did one of their cooks, Stephan Pyles, who flew in from Dallas for the event. He teamed with Rudy Speckamp, of Rudy's 2900 restaurant, who drove in from Finksburg.

Linwood Dame, of Linwood's Cafe in Owings Mills, couldn't find enough dead-ripe cherry tomatoes to make the salsa he was fixing with Peggy Smith of Berkeley's Chez Panisse, a restaurant that's a temple of organic produce. So some cherry tomatoes flew in with Ms. Smith from California. However, across the room, there were local tomatoes in the 10-tomato salad served by Washington's Nora Pouillon of Nora's and Benny Gordon of Baltimore's 2110. Ms. Pouillon said she got the tomatoes from a journalist-turned-farmer who supplies her restaurant. The herbs in the chicken chasseur dish, whipped up by the Milton Inn's Mark Henry and Pat Roco from Albany, N.Y., came from Henry's garden.

I'm not sure where the ginger came from that Barbara Tropp used to make the magnificent ginger dipping sauce she and Michael Rork of Baltimore's Harbor Court Hotel prepared. But Ms. Tropp's stylish burr hair cut and the delicate clean flavors of her spring rolls showed the flair of San Francisco, where she operates the China Moon restaurant.

It turned out that I met my favorite dish, the barbecued quail, just as I was leaving. It was made by Patrick Clark of Washington's Hay Adams hotel and Harold Marmulstein of Baltimore's Polo Grill. As full as I was, I found room for this smoky, almost sweet dish.

I left in a daze. When I got home I realized I had missed dessert, called bayou bourbon banana cake, whipped up by Marty Cosgrove of K-Paul's in New Orleans and Spike Gjerde of Spike & Charlie's in Baltimore. There is always next year.

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