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Chefs bond while giving back

Event for Cystic Fibrosis Foundation helps build Baltimore's culinary scene

August 26, 2014|By Kit Waskom Pollard, For The Baltimore Sun

The wines are selected before creation of the menus so the chefs can consider them when developing their menus. Dalton then reviews their food selections and makes specific pairing recommendations for each course, sometimes working with Kalaris to tweak the list of available wines.

The impact of the Passion for Food & Wine event spills over far beyond what goes on the plate or in the glass — or even what goes into the foundation's coffers. Though they work at competing restaurants, participating chefs believe their friendships and collaboration help improve the Baltimore culinary scene as a whole.

"No other event has been more effective in helping to foster and create a community among the local chefs," says Vitale. "So many of us have become friends as a result of the interaction we've had planning. We've all become friends — the very up-and-coming chefs and established restaurateurs. I don't think any of that culture would have happened without the Passion event."

Vitale notes that friendships established through event planning have spawned other culinary events, like "pop-up" restaurants, in which a chef "pops up" in another chef's kitchen, taking over or collaborating for a night or two.

Meeting and working with other chefs inspires everyone to improve, says Cyrus Keefer of Fork & Wrench. "This event is the cream of the crop. It's awesome to be in the presence of that great talent. It motivates us to do the best we can do."

Vitale, who opened Aldo's in 1998, says he is invigorated by working with chefs from newer restaurants. "The only reason a restaurant like Aldo's survives is because we're still relevant," he says. "Food is like fashion — we don't eat the same way as five years ago. It's fun to be in a room with chefs to see what's working. Almost like being on the runway at Fashion Week."

The time is right for events like this in Baltimore, says Chris Becker, chief operating officer of the Bagby Restaurant Group, which owns several local restaurants, including Fleet Street Kitchen and Cunningham's. Becker notes that the city's culinary scene has dramatically matured over the past five years — and that the current collaborative environment bodes well.

"I don't think any of this could have happened five or 10 years ago," he says. "Baltimore has become more of a food city where chefs are taking control. No one person is going to put Baltimore on the map. If we all work together to push ourselves, we can ultimately make Baltimore an even better food scene than what it's grown to in the past five years."

For Becker, being able to raise money by doing what he loves is a major bonus. "To use food as a means to help people is just really cool to me," he says. Both he and Vitale have become so inspired by their work with Passion for Food & Wine that they have joined the foundation board.

This year's Passion for Food & Wine event, in which tickets were $650 per person, is sold out. A second event, Continue the Passion for Food & Wine, is in the works. The second party, which will take place this fall, will be more informal, with an urban barbecue theme.

With two years under their belts, and two parties in the works, the chefs are fired up about this year's Passion events.

"I think this will be the best year by far," says Pellegrino. "I'm looking forward to seeing what these other guys have come up with to wow the people in front of them."

More information

For details about the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, about Passion for Food & Wine and Continue the Passion for Food & Wine, visit cff.org.

Restaurants participating in the dinner portion of the 2014 Passion for Food & Wine event include Aggio / Volt, Aldo's Ristorante Italiano, Apropoe's, Bluegrass, Blue Hill Tavern, The Capital Grille, Fleet Street Kitchen, Fork & Wrench, Four Seasons Hotel, Jonah Kim (formerly of Pabu), Ouzo Bay Greek Kouzina, Roy's, Talara, The Food Market, Waterfront Kitchen, Wit + Wisdom and Woodberry Kitchen.

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