Michael Costa, executive chef at Baltimore's Pazo, knows a thing or two about flambeing. He knows if the flames shoot up way over his head, it's a bad sign. Even if the fire marshal is standing by, which he was.
The HBO pilot The Washingtonienne shot scenes in the restaurant recently, and Costa was one of several staffers who were extras. He was filmed doing chef's work in the kitchen, which wouldn't have been much of a stretch if the special-effects folks hadn't fanned the flames on his faux flambe.
"They had a propane tank with a burner," he said. "The propane was positioned about chest level, and the flames were 2 or 3 feet high, a foot or two over my head, which hopefully wouldn't happen in a normal professional kitchen."
Aside from not catching fire, the hardest part for Costa was faking the normal food-prep bustle, since the dishes had already been made.
That, and throwing away the real Pazo menu items created as props - pork confit cannelloni, some fancy pizzas, steaks - when the long overnight shoot was over.
"It was definitely painful to throw it away after the shoot, but after 12 hours it was probably the best thing for it," he said.
The television show, based on a book by Washington sex blogger Jessica Cutler and executive-produced by Sarah Jessica Parker, stars Rachel Taylor, Amanda Walsh and Bitsie Tulloch. Pazo is standing in for a D.C. hot spot.
Pazo server James Smith played a bartender and wound up with a speaking part. That's made him something of a celebrity among the staff, though he isn't sure just what he spoke.
"They ordered a drink, and I kind of just nodded and said, 'OK,' and walked away," Smith said. " 'OK' or 'sure' or some phrase in agreeance that I'm going to get the drink. Everybody's hyping it up. I'm trying to be modest."
Rob Colon, assistant sommelier at one of Pazo's sister restaurants, Cinghiale, played the "suited restaurant manager."
"That's what it said on their call sheet," he said. It was a step up from his last theatrical credit. He appeared in a community theater production of Grease eight or nine years ago and described his role as "random teenage dancer No. 3."
Mission-driven and elegant
The folks at Sheppard Pratt were less than amused by my take on the psychiatric hospital's ads in The New Yorker magazine.
Yes, the ad for "The Retreat at Sheppard Pratt" played up the "elegantly appointed environment" and "first-class setting." It also said, "The Retreat does not accept insurance."
But that doesn't mean the whole joint's hoity-toity.
"We provide charity care, financial aid," said spokeswoman Bonnie Katz. "One-third of inpatients are Medicaid. ... We're a very mission-driven organization. That's really our philosophy and vision from 1891 forward."
So why does the ad make it sound like The Ritz?
While Sheppard Pratt accepts insurance and Medicaid patients in its conventional 300-bed psychiatric hospital, the ad is for The Retreat, a separate 16-bed program created for people who have the need and, yes, means, to pay for extended psychiatric care. That's only been around since 2002.
A spread on Arbutus
Forgive Arbutus if it cops an attitude. It's been discovered by The Urbanite.
Not that the spread is particularly glowing. "In Between Places," is how the magazine refers to it.
"The sleepy commercial drag that runs for a half-mile along East Drive through Arbutus begins at the smallish Superfresh grocery store on the east end and extends to the Hollywood movie theater on the west," begins the piece by native Arbutian Michael Yockel.
"In between sit a pair of convenience stores, a Cigarette Outlet, several restaurants (foremost, Leon's, ground zero for supporters of former governor and ex-Arbutian Robert Ehrlich Jr.), two nail emporiums, a town hall, a volunteer fire station, a post office, a Baltimore County library branch, a clutch of attorneys' offices, six pizzerias (six!), a dollar store, and sundry other establishments, including Wild Wolfs Beef Shack (so wild it eschews the possessive apostrophe), which is housed in a mobile trailer, and the Arbutus Poodle Salon. Vacant storefronts pop up intermittently."
The story looks at research done by Thomas Vicino, who did his doctoral dissertation at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County on the "disintegration" of "first-tier suburbs." The key to revitalization in Arbutus might be Vicino's alma mater, the story says.
"Tapping the UMBC campus as a resource to anchor and revitalize the Arbutus community would unleash many potential plans," Vicino tells the magazine.
Kudos to local men
Maybe UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski III could work some of his transformational magic on Arbutus. He's already turned his sleepy commuter school into a top-ranked research institution, which just landed him a spot on U.S. News & World Report's list of "America's Best Leaders 2008." There are 23 honorees (if you don't count the unknown number of "U.S. Junior Officers" recognized en masse), and Baltimore can claim two. (That's not even counting Caltech biology professor David Baltimore.) Hopkins pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson made the list, too. ... Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Joshua Sharfstein makes Governing magazine's list of "Public Officials of the Year." He's praised for leading a crusade against giving over-the-counter cough and cold medicines to young children.