A day for culinary stars to shine

Fund-raiser: Fun food's at the center of Sunday's Gourmet Chefs of Distinction event at Martin's West.

April 07, 1999|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Food Editor

Baltimore's taste buds are about to get a treat.

On Sunday, WMAR-TV newsman Terry Owens will be trading in his on-camera coat and tie for a chef's jacket and toque to prepare spicy red beans and rice for a hungry crowd of about 1,000 at Martin's West in Woodlawn. He'll be joined by such culinary stars of the day as Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke; William L. Jews, president and chief executive officer of Carefirst Blue Cross and Blue Shield; Earl S. Richardson, president of Morgan State University; and about 150 other men. They will be presenting their favorite dishes to benefit the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Baltimore Metropolitan Chapter.

Guests, who will pay $25 for the annual Gourmet Chefs of Distinction (Men Who Cook) event, will be able to dip into an array of fun food -- Schmokin Shrimp Salad, Chicken and Salsa, Black-Eyed Peas Salad, Buffalo Wings, Ribs Diablo, Rum Raisin French Toast, Chocolate Rum Cake and more. "The food is good," says Mary J. Demory, coalition president and veteran sampler at the fund-raiser that supports the group's community and educational projects. "The enthusiasm of the chefs is contagious. There's this atmosphere of excitement."

Owens, who dished out his signature recipe last year, once again will man a cooking station from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the huge ballroom, as throngs try out the guest chefs' various offerings. "It is a little intimidating to have your food out there being judged by all those different palates," Owens says. "You stand there and watch the reaction and you can tell what they're thinking."

Owens, who is host of "2-the-Point" and a general assignment reporter at WMAR which is sponsoring the event, plans to be more creative this year, he says. He's thinking of adding shrimp to the bean dish he adapted from recipes from a cookbook and a restaurateur-friend in Detroit, his hometown.

His cooking skills also took root in the Motor City. While growing up, he carefully kept an eye on his mother, Lizzie McSham, as she whipped up tempting soul foods like collard greens and corn bread. "My mother was someone who loved the kitchen," says Owens, 41, who lives in Columbia with his wife, Deborah, 39, and children, Brandon, 11, and Olivia, 6. "I sort of hung around and watched her. I wish I had learned more."

Owens' mother died seven years ago but her culinary influence is still strong. "One of the things I learned from my mom was presentation," he says. "She set the most beautiful tables. The food was like a picture. You almost didn't want to eat it."

Now, Owens cooks mostly on weekends, making pasta dishes, grilling or fixing breakfast for a family that loves pancakes. "I always enjoy cooking. It's therapeutic in many ways, the preparing, the slicing and dicing," he says.

This weekend, he'll have a lot of cooking company at the male-bonding party. "It's a great afternoon," says Jerry Chiat, 52, who, with his wife, Eileen, runs Acclaimed Promotional Specialties in Owings Mills. "I'm not a gourmet. But I like to tinker in the kitchen."

Chiat, who has participated in six of the event's seven years, will be bringing slabs of ribs he will have nurtured for hours on his home gas grill. "I'm giving up O's tickets," Chiat says, to participate. "It's a wonderful event. I wanted to give back a bit."

Besides helping the 10-year-old coalition raise about $15,000 last year, the men also have turned the afternoon into a friendly contest. "The men have acquired a competitive spirit among themselves," says Thelma T. Daley, event chairwoman who is compiling a cookbook of the men's recipes. "They don the caps and stand behind the chafing dishes. They're so proud."

Demory agrees. "They get into a competition to see how fast the food goes, thinking the best goes first."

Owens learned that lesson last year. He brought a huge vat of beans, which kept him at his station. "My big mistake was preparing so much. I wanted to get around to some of the other tables."

This year, he plans to check out the rest of the entries. "You look at the most creative dish and think, `How can I top that?' " he says. "It is a lot of fun. You are one of the men of distinction there."

West African Red Beans

Serves 6 to 8

1 cup dried pinto beans, picked over

1 1/4 cups chopped onion

1/2 cup peanut or vegetable oil

1 cup canned whole tomatoes, drained and chopped

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 large clove garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

1 teaspoon salt

Soak the beans overnight in 2 quarts of water, or quick-soak them: Put the beans in a heavy pot and cover with 2 quarts of water. Bring to a boil, and boil for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let the beans soak, uncovered, for 1 hour.

Bring the pot of soaked beans to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Add 1/4 cup of the onion and simmer, partly covered, about 1 hour or until the beans are tender but not mushy. Drain the beans in a large sieve and set them aside.

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