Benefit Tuesday to help ailing chef

Community works to thank owner of Rockfish restaurant

February 25, 2007|By NINA SEARS | NINA SEARS,Special to The Sun

When Charlie Bauer won a rockfishing contest in 2002, he gave his prizes, new fishing equipment, to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

When a local restaurateur was raising money for a hospital last fall after her husband died of cancer, Bauer auctioned off dinners that he had cooked and pulled in more than $2,000.

Other times, Bauer, co-owner and executive chef of The Rockfish Restaurant in Eastport, has hosted dinner parties and luncheons for various causes, donated to civic groups and contributed to the bay foundation.

"He's a generous person with his time and his talent," said Rockfish general manager Matt McLaughlin. "He is definitely an integral part of Annapolis."

Now that Bauer has been diagnosed with a brain tumor, dozens of local businesses and organizations are lining up to thank him for all he has done. A benefit Tuesday night at the Rockfish will feature four local bands, silent and live auctions, hors d'oeuvres and an open bar. All monetary contributions will go to help Bauer pay medical and related expenses, said Kathy Nieberding, who is helping to organize the event.

"The response has been overwhelming," said Beth Hartung, another organizer, who has worked for Bauer for eight years. "The event hasn't cost us a thing so far."

Bauer has health insurance, but Rockfish co-owner Greg Casten expects his medical bills to reach $100,000 soon.

Bauer, 48, was diagnosed shortly after he collapsed in the Rockfish on Dec. 10 while socializing with customers. He was taken to Anne Arundel Medical Center, where he was released early the next morning. Soon afterward, Bauer went to an eye doctor, who noticed problems with his optic nerves. Bauer was immediately admitted to Georgetown University Hospital, where he stayed for nearly a month, McLaughlin said.

"In hindsight, the signs were probably there," Casten said. "But he was in unbelievable physical shape. He doesn't put his problems on his sleeve. He works through it on his own."

Bauer is getting radiation treatments five days a week and is part of a clinical study of a new drug that has been used successfully on patients in worse condition, said Bauer's father, Robert.

Bauer has short-term memory loss and walks with a cane, but his father said that there haven't been any noticeable side effects from his treatment in the study and that Bauer's attitude remains positive.

"Every day he says he's going back to work next week," said Robert Bauer. "And we're hoping that one day he will."

Born in Washington, Bauer had a passion for cooking at an early age.

A solid student, he turned down several academic scholarships to attend the prestigious culinary arts program at Johnson & Wales University, where he received numerous awards. His friends and co-workers say Bauer graduated at the top of his class.

After graduating from the School of Hospitality Management at Florida International University, Bauer went on to cook at East Coast Fisheries in Miami, where he was featured on the Today show.

Since moving to Annapolis nearly 20 years ago, Bauer has worked at several restaurants, helped to rebuild the then-fledging O'Learys Seafood Restaurant and opened the popular Rockfish in 2005 with Casten and Del. James King of Gambrills.

"He's very much involved in using sustainable seafood, not just the best quality, but making sure that quality won't harm the environment," said Howard Binkel, who has worked with Bauer for more than 10 years.

Bauer is also known as a goofball, Hartung said, but "he's always educating the front of the house and the back of the house. ... He keeps you interested in your job."

Bauer, who is staying in Annapolis with his parents, has two sons, ages 6 and 9, with his ex-wife.

Bauer's Rockfish colleagues miss his sense of humor and his daily presence. He visits the restaurant from time to time, and friends say being a part of the community keeps him going.

Tuesday's benefit for Bauer has 30 financial sponsors. Many businesses have donated food and wine. Businesses and organizations have donated 75 items to auction, including cruises, trips to Napa Valley, wines, golf packages and jewelry. More than 200 tickets have been sold.

"I'm just overwhelmed by support," Bauer said. "I am very pleased that people care about me, and I look forward to returning the effort tenfold or more."

The benefit for Bauer will be held from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday at the Rockfish, 400 Sixth St. in Eastport. Tickets cost $50 and are available online at www.rockfishmd.com and at the door.

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