Chef Ernest Nagy of Havre de Grace will trade in his skillet for skis next Sunday when he and two restaurant partners participate in a chefs ski race in New York state.
But in addition to sporting poles and goggles on the slopes, they'll be dressed in appropriate culinary fashion -- toque, white coat and apron.
The annual slalom race attracts more than 300 chefs and restaurant personnel from the mid-Atlantic region, who compete for trophies and raise money for the hungry.
This year's beneficiary is New York City's Meals on Wheels, a nonprofit organization that delivers food to the homebound.
Eight Marylanders have signed up for the Grand Marnier Chefs Ski Race, including the Harford County contingent: Mr. Nagy, who owns the waterfront Tidewater Grille in Havre de Grace, and associates Mark Hasenei and John Jordan Sr.
"The trip is a lot of fun," Mr. Nagy said, as he reminisced about the eight years he's been involved in the program.
"It's a man's trip," the 48-year-old bearded chef said about this year's venture.
His nonskiing wife, Helen, doesn't mind. "I'd rather be in the Bahamas," she said.
This year, the group is going to Ski Windham in the Northern Catskills a few days ahead of time to work out "the kinks" and to talk with some of the country's top food authorities.
Celebrity chefs or food writers on hand in the past have included Craig Claiborne ("Actually, he was an adviser. He's a little too old to ski," Mr. Nagy said), Pierre Franey (who celebrated his 70th birthday there three years ago), Paul Prudhomme and Jacques Pepin.
According to Mr. Nagy, cookbook author Jacques Pepin was indirectly responsible for the original ski race in 1975.
The former chef for French President Charles de Gaulle was newly transplanted to New York City when he was seriously injured in a car accident. Two dozen chefs held a ski race to honor their colleague's recovery. It was so successful that they decided to keep it going to collect funds for soup kitchens and shelters.
This year, each registrant will pay $50 to participate, and Marnier-Lapostolle, the French producer of Grand Marnier liqueur, which is the corporate sponsor, will provide matching funds. Last year, the mid-Atlantic race raised over $5,000, said David Stone, president of Ski Sports Marketing in Colorado, which organizes the event.
The Ski Windham race is one of five competitions held throughout the country to benefit regional charities. Next weekend's race will be the kickoff for the other events, Mr. Stone said.
At Ski Windham, "there's lots of skiing, lots of fun and lots of food," said Ingrid Emerton, marketing director for the resort.
One of the highlights of the weekend is the post-ski banquet, she said.
"The staff prepares the food, and students from the Culinary Institute of America [(CIA) at Hyde Park, N.Y.] work with us," Ms. Emerton said. "It's a great experience for them to cook for some of the most famous East Coast chefs."
Mr. Nagy, a CIA graduate, remembers feasting at past parties. "Just imagine a multicourse meal that would probably cost a couple of hundred [dollars] per person," he said.
After all, this is a man who knows food. Mr. Nagy prides himself on serving several kinds of fresh fish and meats for an eclectic American menu at his restaurant and claims to have introduced quiche to the town of Bel Air in the late '70s.
Mr. Nagy, who has owned the Tidewater Grille for 4 1/2 years, still
skis whenever he can, traveling to Aspen, Colo., and other ski areas. He said that next Sunday's race, because of its proximity to New York City, brings out a tough group of competitors.
"A lot of the chefs are Swiss, French and Germans who grew up on skis," said Mr. Nagy, who learned to ski when he was 35.
Three years ago, though, one of the cooks at his restaurant held his own against the Europeans in the "double giant slalom shootout" and won a third-place trophy in his age group. Mr. Nagy proudly shows off the black plastic emblem.
The kitchen worker, John Jordan Jr., has moved out of the cooking field, but his father, John Jordan Sr., who holds an interest in the Tidewater property, will be taking his place.
Even if the three Harford men don't win a prize, they'll bring back "goodie bags filled with food samples and treats," Mr. Nagy said.