'Homicide': Lunch on the street

February 09, 1997|By ROB KASPER

CLARK JOHNSON, KNOWN as Detective Meldrick Lewis to fans of NBC's "Homicide: Life on the Street" series, came strolling across East Lombard Street last week to interrogate John Bowers.

"What's for lunch?" Johnson asked.

Bowers poked his head out of a stainless-steel trailer that serves as his mobile kitchen and announced: "Baked rockfish, roast pork, steamed cauliflower, potatoes au gratin, peas with mushrooms, tomato-basil fettuccine."

"Roast pork," said Johnson, with a grin almost as upturned as the rim of dark pork-pie hat. Soon Johnson and about 100 other members of the "Homicide" work force were moving down both sides of a buffet table in the basement of the First Apostolic Faith Church at Caroline and Lombard streets.

It was another episode of lunch on the street, the culinary backdrop to "Homicide," the television series about Baltimore cops that airs on Friday nights and is filmed at various locations in the city. Wherever there is edgy, urban drama to be filmed -- from Lombard Middle School in East Baltimore to Druid Hill Park -- there is also a big lunch cooked by Bowers.

Bowers, 32, is a graduate of Dulaney Valley High School and Baltimore's International Culinary College, as well as an alum of various Baltimore-area restaurants, including Harvey's, the Greenspring Inn, Harryman House and kitchens at the Hunt Valley Marriott and Harbor Court hotels.

He has been cooking for the "Homicide" crew for the last two years. With help from his brother Thomas, he serves as the Baltimore arm of Coast to Coast Catering, a New Jersey-based firm that specializes in catering for film crews and which has the "Homicide" contract. When the "Homicide" work stops for the season, sometime in March, Bowers, a Timonium resident, fires up the ovens of his own cooking enterprise, Extreme Catering.

His base is the kitchen of St. Stanislaus, a Catholic church in Fells Point not far from the building that serves as police headquarters on the television show.

Recently I spent two days with Bowers as he served lunch on location, first at First Apostolic Faith Church, across the street from Lombard Middle School, and then in Druid Hill Park, in a basement room of the Dr. Ralph W. E. Jones Jr. Administration Building, near the park's swimming pools.

Lunch, I learned, is technically known as "the first meal." It is a sit-down affair; if there aren't chairs and tables at the lunch spot, Bowers carts them in. "I love churches," he said, noting that most houses of worship have tables and chairs already set up in the basement.

Lunch must be served quickly. Thirty minutes after the last person has gone through the buffet line, the lunch break ends. (If crew members miss lunch, they can grab something at the ever-open snack wagon, known as "craft service." On the "Homicide" set, craft service is the domain of R. Bruce Holtman, a Hampden resident and father of four, who calls his food enterprise Fathers.)

Bowers said that during his two years with "Homicide," he has become attuned to the likes and dislikes of the crew. He knows, for instance, that when he makes red beans and rice, Kyle Secor, who plays Detective Tim Bayliss, prefers no meat in the dish. Secor is a vegetarian. Yaphet Kotto, who plays Lt. Al Giardello, likes the dish seasoned with meat.

Bowers knows that the drivers, the men who wheel the show's people and machinery around town, like to send a scout down to his kitchen trailer. The scout reports, via hand-held radio, to the .. other drivers what is on the lunch menu. He knows that the women working in wardrobe will check to make sure that the salads are fresh, the vegetables aren't overcooked and the desserts are up to their standards.

"I am the unofficial consultant," Bebe Ferro, a wardrobe worker, told me. "I tell them when we need some Mexican food, or Oriental flair. And if something is nasty, I tell him."

At the Druid Hill site, I queried a few members of the crew on what lunch meant to them.

The tableful of task-oriented assistant directors didn't have much to say about lunch. For them, lunch seemed to be 30 minutes of refueling.

But a few actors had views. For example, Reed Diamond, who portrays Detective Mike Kellerman, didn't want lunch to weigh him down. That afternoon the script called for him to sprint through Druid Hill Park, so he had chosen pasta and grilled squash. "You don't want to eat anything that will get you too loogy," he said, explaining that "loogy" is a condition of stifled VTC artistry.

Nearby, Erik Todd Dellums smiled sweetly as he finished off a piece of grilled tuna. In a few minutes he would be Luther Mahoney, a sinister drug dealer, nemesis of Detectives Lewis and Kellerman. But at lunch he was a handsome actor with dazzling teeth and a sense of humor. When you have a speaking role, he said, you don't want a lunch that will give you a bad gastrointestinal moment in the middle of your big scene. "No spicy food, no fried food," he said.

However, Dellums recalled that back in the days when he was a low-paid extra, with no speaking roles, he lived for lunch.

As lunch wound down, Bowers huddled with Adam Laws, a location booker, who described the layout of a high-rise apartment building on Eutaw Place, the next lunch site.

The bad news for Bowers was that he and his brother were going to have to cart tables and chairs into the apartment building. The good news was that lunch would be served on the first floor.

"I can let you pull right into the alley," Laws told Bowers. Bowers seemed pleased. The promise of an alley parking spot meant that the next version of lunch on the street could be served with a minimum of heavy lifting.

Pub Date: 2/09/97

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