Great chefdom means tearing hair as well as lettuce

March 04, 2001|By Rob Kasper

DAYS BEFORE the Great Chefs Dinner, a glittering extravaganza held this week at the Center Club, the Dover sole was in doubt and the lettuce appeared to be lost.

When Lynn Kennedy-Tilyou, the chef at Antrim 1844 Country Inn, who was in charge of the meal, first went in search of sole, the news was not good. She was told that the area of the Baltic Sea where the sole were supposed to be swimming was temporarily closed to fishing. In the chef's plan, the fish was going to be her first course, a roulade of Dover sole stuffed with a roasted pepper and scallops mousseline.

Meanwhile, the 24 boxes of exotic greens, key ingredients in the salad course, were missing in action somewhere between California and the Antrim Inn in Taneytown. In the chef's mind, the red oak lettuce, mace and other leafy wonders were going to be the green bed that the Maryland crab salad, a tower of crab meat topped with ostera caviar -- rested on. So as chefs do when they have 267 people coming to dinner and the cupboard is bare, Tilyou got on the phone and called seafood suppliers and lettuce shippers and cajoled and generally pulled out her hair.

Then the dark clouds of logistical troubles miraculously lifted. The fishery reopened, and Dover sole, about 80 of them, were flown into Baltimore. Once they arrived, they were quickly set upon by Tilyou and her knife-wielding kitchen crew of Shawn Micheal Edmonds, Eric MacPherson, Christopher Morgan and Chris Stonesifer. So by Monday afternoon the fish that had once been a questionable arrival were being pummeled by Edmonds into perfectly even fillets, then stuffed by MacPherson with the roasted-pepper mousse for the evening's first course.

As for the lettuce, it behaved like a long-lost flaky friend from California. After disappearing from official view and refusing to respond to phone calls, it showed up in time, against all odds. A few hours before dinner, Tilyou's banquet chef, Morgan, was bathing the greens, preparing them for their evening appearance. In the afternoon, Tilyou was busy but calm. There was still plenty of work to do to prepare for the Great Chefs Dinner, which over the past 10 years has become a fixture in the Baltimore culinary community, bringing in noted chefs such as Philadelphia's George Perrier, Washington's Jean-Louis Palladin, New York's Larry Forgione and Boston's Lydia Shire. The dinner is a fund-raiser for the Family Tree, a nonprofit group working against child abuse.

As Tilyou spoke to me, she worked, picking up two spoons and forming lumps of olive tapanade into attractively shaped quenelles that would accompany the crab course. She is clearly a chef who doesn't like to stand still.

She came to Antrim Inn in 1999 after 2 1/2 years in Memphis, Tenn., at La Tourelle restaurant. She told me she has always pushed herself to improve professionally, engaging in culinary competitions, trying out for the 1996 Culinary Olympic Team, returning to her alma mater, the Culinary Institute of America, to take a grueling 10-day exam in an effort to become an American Culinary Federation Master Chef. While she didn't make master chef (few do on their first attempt), Tilyou said she would be back for another try.

Putting on dinners like the Great Chefs affair is another opportunity to hone her skills and generate publicity for the Antrim, she said. This week, for instance, after the dinner at the Center Club, Tilyou was headed to New York for a return engagement at the James Beard House. The day after serving up the elusive Dover sole and exotic greens, plus a green-peppercorn-crusted veal chop with a stunning foie gras risotto, Tilyou was on the phone. She was chasing down more Dover sole, some squab and venison for her next big meal.

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