Taste of Harford moves to stadium

March 26, 2006

When the Harford County Restaurant Association started the Taste of Harford County in 1998, about 200 people showed up at Aberdeen Proving Ground to sample the cuisine of a handful of county restaurateurs.

By 2000, the event had outgrown that site and moved to the Richlin Ballroom in Edgewood, and by last year, 2,000 people attended and more than 20 restaurants participated.

This year, the event, which will be held from noon to 3 p.m. April 2, moves to Ripken Stadium to accommodate what Joe Gabriel, a director with the Restaurant Association of Maryland, expects to be the biggest crowd yet.

"This event gets bigger every year because of word of mouth," Gabriel said.

About 40 restaurants are expected to showcase their cuisine. The $20 admission covers samplings from all participating restaurants, including Tidewater Grille, Mountain Branch Grille, MacGregor's, Main Street Tower and Clarence's Taste of New Orleans. Admission for children ages 7 and under is free.

"It's a chance for people to come and sample signature dishes," Gabriel said.

The agenda also includes cooking demonstrations, a wine tasting, an ice cream eating contest for the children and a chefs' competition.

Lou Ward, chairman of the event and owner of the Bayou Restaurant in Havre de Grace, said in jest that he opts out of the competition to give younger chefs a chance to win.

"I'm so good, it wouldn't be fair if I competed," he said. But he said he marvels at watching other chefs display their skills.

"It's amazing to me what they do," Ward said.

Last year, the chefs were given rockfish and Maryland lump crab and directed to create an entree using a pantry of ingredients that included fruit, vegetables, and chicken and beef stocks.

Last year's winner, David Micozzi, owner of Carried Away Gourmet in downtown Bel Air, made a dish with a chipotle cream sauce, Spanish rice, rockfish, crab meat and fried leeks.

"All the dishes were great last year," Micozzi said. "But the thing is, different judges have different tastes. If you use ginger and they don't like ginger, then you don't win. ... I participated because I love to cook and it was all in fun."

Kevin Jones, the chef at MacGregor's in Havre de Grace, agrees.

"I won two years ago, came in second last year, and this year I want to get at least second place," Ward said. "But either way, it's fun to see what different chefs can do with the same ingredients."

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