A reunion carried out with exquisite good taste

September 27, 1998|By Rob Kasper

WHEN I HEAR THE word "reunion," I usually think of bowls of stale chips, beverages in plastic cups and uneasy moments trying to remember the names of high school classmates from long ago.

But recently I went to a reunion at Rudys' 2900 that was deliciously different from the stale chips type. At this reunion, chefs who learned their craft under the tutelage of chef Rudy Speckamp (and maitre d' Rudi Paul), returned to the restaurant in Carroll County to help their former tutor prepare a feast celebrating the establishment's 15th anniversary.

"This restaurant was a great learning ground," said Daniel Dernetz, who worked at Rudys' for eight years and now is executive sous chef for the Hilton Lord Baltimore.

"He drilled pride and standards of excellence into us every day," said John David Hamme, who worked under Speckamp for three years and is now chef at Sam Snead's restaurant in the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

At most reunions, you must listen to hours of small talk to find out what the returnees are doing with their lives. At this reunion, you simply had to pick up a fork and work your way through the menu.

The first course, for instance, a Savannah lump crab cocktail, was prepared by John Wells, executive chef of the Corner Cafe in Atlanta.

The second course, pan-roasted squab on pumpkin risotto with a spice broth and cranberry compote, was whipped up by Shawn Harlan, who was once a busboy at Cockey's Tavern in Westminster. He got a cooking degree from Baltimore International College, worked at Rudys', and eventually landed a job as sous chef at the Inn at Little Washington in Virginia.

The soup course was a refreshing mixture of cucumber, citrus and mint, with mussels swimming in the bottom. It was prepared by Patrick Dobbs, a Rudys' alum, who is executive sous chef at Caves Valley Golf Club.

The fish course, prepared by Hamme, was a succulent mustard-crusted salmon served with something I never heard of, garganelli. Later, Hamme told me garganelli was a squarish pasta made with semolina flour.

The palate cleanser, a tarragon peach sorbet, was whipped up by the old master, Speckamp. "They had to let me do something," he said.

The meat course, handled by Jay Swift, consisted of thin slices of saddle of lamb, served with a sweet-potato ravioli and pesto sauce made of sunflower seeds and cilantro. Swift is executive chef at South City Kitchen in Atlanta.

The salad consisted of field greens with a citrus vinaigrette and a hint of vanilla. Putting a vanilla bean in the vinaigrette was a technique Dernetz added to his repertoire, and it surprised his mentor. "Did he sneak a vanilla bean in there?" Speckamp asked after the meal.

When the dessert, a lemon gratin with kiln-dried cherry sauce created by Rudys' pastry chef Cheryl Wingate, appeared at the table, it was only 10 o'clock. This efficient pace, serving an eight-course meal to 200 diners in a little over two hours, pleased Speckamp. "There were 21 people working in an eight-person kitchen," Speckamp said. "No one stepped on the other fellow's toes." He, along with his German-born partner, Paul, were teased by their former employees about their emphasis on the importance of order. Over the clamor of the kitchen, Speckamp said he heard "famous sayings" being recited, in fake German accents, by his former apprentices. That is the way it goes at most reunions, students return to praise, and mock, their old teachers.

Pub Date: 9/27/98

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