Trio's new venture caters to their love of cooking Business: Three students from the Baltimore International College turn a class project into Culinary Relief, a catering firm.

December 30, 1998|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Food Editor

Take three women in transition, add a generous dose of resolve and a fistful of determination. Stir gently into the mix at Baltimore International College and simmer for two years.

Remove slowly to shape Culinary Relief, one of the Baltimore area's newest catering businesses.

The venture, which grew from a class project at the culinary school, is the dream of graduating students Gloria Gadsden of Catonsville, 44; Yvonne Chavis of Ferndale, 54; and Tracey Taylor of Randalls-town, 32 - women who were seeking a midlife change.

Taylor had been a New York City police officer. Gadsden was haunted by a son's murder. And Chavis, frustrated in her job as an architectural assistant, had retired.

They had never met before coming to the college. But they shared a love of cooking.

"I have been cooking all my life," said Taylor. "I woke up on my 30th birthday, that was the turning point, and thought if I have to get up every day, I have to do something I want to do."

Now, a simple food connection between the women has grown into a complex bond.

They are the best of friends, planning menus, discussing children and bemoaning final exams on three-way telephone conference calls. Recently, the trio, in white jackets and tall toques, gathered to put the finishing touches on dozens of tarts, cakes, rum balls and cookies to feed 300 guests at a holiday dessert party.

"They inhaled about 1,000 desserts in 45 minutes," said a pleased Gadsden afterward. "We couldn't believe it."

Before catering the event, the women met in the morning to dollop lemon curd, vanilla cream and sweet-potato fillings into miniature tart shells. Then, they carefully positioned sliced kiwi, clementine sections, raspberries and pecan halves on the pastries.

Earlier, they had baked an assortment of cakes, including Chavis' delectable blackberry poundcake with blackberry jam and liqueur.

They were tired, they admitted. But they bolstered each other by talking about the future - which includes two big weddings to be catered in the spring - and the past.

"I moved to Baltimore to give my kids better shots," said Taylor, a single mother of a 7-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter. "Kids can't be children in New York."

Gadsden is another transplanted New Yorker, who came to the area after her 17-year-old son was killed 2 1/2 years ago. "He wanted me to move," said the former police dispatcher, who has two sons, 16 and 21. "He wanted me to live somewhere safe."

For Chavis, who has lived in Anne Arundel County for almost 30 years with her husband, Leonard, and two children now in their 20s, culinary school had been a goal for the past 10 years. Early retirement paved the way.

"You're never too old to learn. You learn, you grow," she said of her decision to go to BIC. "And you can talk about food for hours and hours."

The women also want to be role models in the cooking world. "We have another agenda," Taylor said. "We feel obliged to let the younger generation know this is a respected field."

Along the way, they have earned the admiration of their instructors.

"It is nice to see nontraditional, mature, working, minority women students turn a dream into reality," said Michael L. Wray, assistant professor of business and management at BIC. "They are energized. It's neat."

Although the women began preparing food for parties only a few months ago, their culinary skills have met with enthusiasm by those who have sampled such dishes as Thai noodle salad, seared salmon, rum chicken and grilled duck breast with raspberry sauce and wild rice.

Their first catering job was for a Columbia housewarming for 200 people. The Culinary Relief group also catered a benefit event for the state Department of Human Resources.

"It's great," said Maria James, deputy director of the department's Office of Resource Development, of the food. "One thing that makes it good is the amount you can get for the money. It is attractively presented and just the fact it is delicious."

For more information on Culinary Relief, call 410-719-7622.

Here is a sampling of recipes.

Blackberry Poundcake

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

3 large eggs, separated, at room temperature

2 cups sifted cake flour, not self-rising

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup seedless blackberry jam

1/3 cup blackberry liqueur or brandy

1/3 cup sour cream

confectioners' sugar for top

doily

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line bottom of lightly greased 9-inch tube pan with wax paper, cut to fit.

Cream butter and brown sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add yolks and mix well. Set aside. Sift dry ingredients and add spices. In another bowl, stir jam and liqueur or brandy into sour cream. Add dry mixture to butter mixture, alternating with sour-cream mixture. Beat egg whites until stiff and fold into batter. Pour batter into pan. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes.

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