Chefs of Distinction More than 100 men show off their culinay skills in a flavorvful fund-raiser

May 27, 1998|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,SUN STAFF

What do the mayor, the governor, a TV executive, a social worker, a dentist, a seminarian and an office-furniture entrepreneur have in common?

The answer is they're all chefs -- at least for one night, when more than 100 men cook their culinary specialties for a party to benefit health, education and empowerment programs of the local chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women.

This year's event, the sixth annual, takes place Sunday and will feature appetizers, main dishes and desserts, from Mayor Kurt Schmoke's green beans to Gov. Parris Glendening's Southern fried drummies to WJZ's Marcellus Alexander's signature salad.

"The mayor's green beans are always popular," said Mary Demory, one of the event organizers.

People love to come to "Gourmet Chefs of Distinction (Men Who Cook)" because it's simple and fun, Demory said. "They get to socialize, and they get to taste good food. And it only lasts two hours."

The gentlemen can be quite competitive about their various specialties, she said, and over the years some of them have developed loyal fans. "The crowd rushes in and people are saying, 'I know I'm going to have some of his crab cakes, and his green beans. ... ' "

One of the men who claims "a small following" for his New York coddies and lemon meringue cake is Donald Atkinson, a former corrections administrator who's preparing for his second career as an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church by attending seminary school.

They're called "New York" coddies because Atkinson identifies himself as a New Yorker -- even after 20 years in Baltimore. Atkinson has been participating in the event for several years.

"The difference between my cod cakes and those you might find at a shop that sells seafood is that I don't use any filler," Atkinson said. "Well, I use a little potato -- you have to have something to hold it together."

He serves his coddies with crackers and a choice of mustards. The cake, he said, is a cross between poundcake and lemon meringue pie. "People seem to love it."

In his years at the event, Tyrone Qualls has found his smoked turkey so popular he's gone from making one at first to making two -- and this year, he said, "I'm going to three."

He'll be using at least two grills for his simply prepared birds -- just a coating of cooking spray and some salt and pepper on the turkeys, and some soaked hickory chips on the indirect coals.

"It's low-fat, no oil -- everybody just loves it, it's so juicy and tender," said Qualls, who, with his sister, owns Qualls Office Furniture of Baltimore. They started the business on a $2,000 shoestring nine years ago and built it to "well over seven figures," Qualls said.

Qualls, a single dad with a daughter in college, said he likes to cook -- seafood and creole and African dishes are his specialties. Some of his culinary inspiration has come from his several trips to Africa, he said. On the most recent trip, to Egypt, he brought back some spices to experiment with.

Chefs of distinction is a father-son event for Billy Davis, a Baltimore dentist, and his son Mark, 27, who's a social worker for the state. Davis said he will be preparing homemade ice cream -- banana and strawberry -- and his son will be offering lasagna.

"I got the [ice cream] recipe from my mother," Davis said; it was the dish she always took to church socials. He said cooking is probably in his genes -- his father was a chef in hotels and resorts. These days, he does most of his cooking on holidays, he said, when his family gathers from as far away as North Carolina for Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter.

Jerry Chiat, of Acclaimed Specialties Inc. of Baltimore, enjoys "tinkering in the kitchen," and said he prepares "about 30 to 40 percent" of the meals he and his wife fix at home. Like Davis, he was influenced by his father, who also enjoyed dabbling in the kitchen.

Chiat became involved with the chefs of distinction when a client asked him to create hats and aprons for the event. His company produces all sorts of promotional items, from hats and jackets with logos to wash-off tattoos to -- once -- red foam fake noses worn "by 5,000 grown-ups" at a mall promotion.

Favorite meals for Chiat are barbecue and fish, and, like Qualls, he said, "I like to work with spices."

Fans of spicy food will be lining up for his wings diablo -- chicken wings prepared with a dash of a sauce so hot it's called Lava.

"I'm going to use it sparingly," he said, laughing. "It's bad form to wipe out your customers."

For proof that there's a wide variety of cooking skills in the group, there's Marcellus Alexander, vice president and general manager at Channel 13, who characterized himself as "the least skilled in the kitchen."

That doesn't keep him from getting an early rush of fans who, recognizing his "lack of skills," are curious to know what he's prepared. For the past three years, his offering has been salad Alexander, which he describes as "like Caesar salad but with some extras in it."

Chefs of distinction is the only fund-raiser for the Baltimore Metropolitan Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, a service organization with wide interests in health care, community issues such as education and police policies, and in furthering the causes and success of African-American women.

This year's event takes place from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at Martin's West, 6817 Dogwood Road in Woodlawn (just outside the Beltway). It costs $25 per person, and you can taste as much as you like -- or as much as you can get to.

The men who participate are asked to provide food for about three dozen people, said Demory, who is president of the coalition's Baltimore chapter, with the idea of providing tastes to as many as possible.

Seeing who turns out to offer food is part of the fun, said Alexander. "You get people who through the week have high-pressure, high-stress jobs, and you get to see them in a completely different role."

Pub Date: 5/27/98

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