It was dinner by committee when the guests at Barry and Maria Fleischmann’s seasonal supper helped with the shopping and took turns in the kitchen.
Believe it or not, some good things did come out of the blizzard of February 2003: Barry and Maria Fleischmann’s dinner party, for instance. The idea to have a “dinner party with guest involvement” surfaced when the Fleischmanns and a few of their Reisterstown neighbors were buried to their rooftops in snow, like the rest of Baltimore. In search of food, a few members of the housebound group ventured out in a caravan of SUVs. Upon arriving home with their finds, everyone came together to spend the evening cooking and dining on whatever they could create.
Eight months later, the Fleischmanns re-created the evening- sans blizzard. The fall themed get-together began this time, not with the onset of cabin fever, but with a phone call from Barry, inviting guests to shop for ingredients with him the day before the dinner. But unlike a usual grocery shopping excursion, they didn’t go armed with a list. Instead they went “to see what looked fresh,” says Barry, a professional caterer. And what looked fresh- everything from Savoy cabbage to octopus- was what made it onto the menu.
On the night of the dinner, Fleischmann did most of the actual cooking. However, guests performed specific tasks such as adding, mixing or preparing ingredients. Appetizers were served on individual plates in the kitchen. They consisted of vodka and pink peppercorn-cured Atlantic salmon with avocado and English cucumber, which was prepared with the help of guest Mimi Daniel, and flat breads with lamb sausage, caramelized onions, eggplant, roasted garlic and Manchego cheese, which was the creation of weatherman Marty Bass and his wife, Sharon.
For the second course, guests gathered around the dining room table that Maria had decorated with floral arrangements and hurricane glass. Meanwhile, Paul Skotarczak stayed in the kitchen to help Fleischmann prepare the white asparagus and roasted peppers with ugli fruit vinaigrette and toasted walnuts.
The third course of grilled octopus and Floridian crabmeat over black risotto with saffron oil, prepared with the help of Luisa and Allesandro Olivi, was one of the most talked-about dishes of the evening. Sportscaster Gerry Sandusky describes it as “the kind of meal where you stop and think that this is on your list of the 10 favorite things you’ve ever eaten.”
The main course, the only one designed completely by Fleischmann, consisted of roasted duck with duck confit and leeks, Savoy cabbage, fennel and parsnip saute, and truffled fingerling potatoes.
Afterward, Jay Jenkins was on hand to help prepare the salad course, Bibb lettuce with toasted pumpkin seeds, golden raisins, spaghetti squash and blue cheese timbale. Then, LeAnn and Gerry Sandusky and Edie and Stanley Brown assisted in the last course of the evening. The Bosc pear tartlet with caramel sauce and chocolate banana souffle “were a good way to spend your carbs,” says Marty Bass.
Many of the guests agree that the most memorable part of the evening was experiencing Barry’s wine expertise. “Each one was perfectly matched,” says Bass of the wines that were hand-picked by Fleischmann from his private cellar. Choices included a 2000 St. Cosme Condrieu and Taylor Fladgate 10-year tawny port, among others.
At the end of the night, four hours later, no one left hungry and no one left without learning a little something about cooking. So what was the secret ingredient of the evening? “Just having good friends that enjoy food and wine and the whole entertaining experience,” says Fleischmann. n
Recipes from the evening
Bibb Lettuce with Toasted Pumpkin Seeds and Golden Raisins with Spaghetti Squash and Blue Cheese Timbale