This special edition of the Politics Hour combined local and national politics live from Slim's Diner in Petworth, Northwest D.C.
The Chesapeake region has a strong culinary reputation, and one of its most celebrated chefs says this part of the country has cuisine every bit as vibrant as the Carolinas or Cajun country. Spike Gjerde says some of that personality has become lost in recent centuries as people in the Chesapeake watershed become more disconnected from local food sources. Now he’s on a mission to reconnect eaters with local foods and a cooking style that some thought was a thing of the past.
- Spike Gjerde Chef, Woodberry Kitchen (Baltimore, Md)
Gjerde shares his philosophy of farm-to-table cooking at Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore. All the ingredients for his food and beverages are sourced from local growers.
Video courtesy of Visit My Balitmore.
Chef Spike Gjerde’s Recipes
- Tilghman Island Crab Cake
Courtesy of Chef Spike Gjerde, Woodberry Kitchen
1 lb jumbo lump crab, carefully picked over for shell
3 T mayonnaise
1/4 cup fresh soft, coarse, bread crumbs
1/4 t aleppo pepper
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
1/2 t salt
1/2 t dry mustard
1 t lemon juice
Break an egg into a bowl and whisk in everything but the crab. Add the crab and gently fold with a rubber spatula to combine. Form into 4 balls, place on a plate, and flatten slightly. Refrigerate for an hour or until ready to eat.
Preheat broiler. Carefully transfer cakes to oiled baking sheet and cook beneath broiler for 10-12 minutes. Serve hot with tartar sauce.
- Five Seeds Fingerling Potatoes and Sorrel
Courtesy of Chef Spike Gjerde, Woodberry Kitchen
1 ½ lb tiny first-of-the-season potatoes
6 young leaves sorrel
4 tblsp butter, softened
1 pinch fish pepper powder
1 tblsp pickle brine
½ tsp sea salt
several turns black pepper
3 young leeks, sliced
1 handful pea shoots
Bring potatoes to a boil in heavily salted water to cover. Cook until not quite tender, about 3 minutes. Drain. Mince sorrel and stir into butter with fish pepper, brine, salt, and pepper.
Warm half of sorrel butter in pan. Add leeks, toss, then add potatoes. Cook over low heat, stirring to coat. Add pea shoots and heat until wilted. Add remaining butter, stirring to coat, and taste, adding more salt if needed.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. I have in front of me a fish pepper. It's a small little thing that packs a bright hot taste, and it was grown just up the road from here by farmers in Maryland. But if you ask Spike Gjerde, this is more than just a little fish pepper. It's a key to the past, a connection to a vibrant Creolized style of cuisine native to the Chesapeake region.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThat faded during the past few centuries as we lost our relationship to the foods we can grow around us. Gjerde is on a mission to revive that style and to remind eaters that Chesapeake cuisine is about far more than just oysters and crabs, that, if we relearn what we forgot, it can be about ham, okra, even wheat. And now, he joins us to explore how we can reclaim those lost threads of Chesapeake cuisine. Spike Gjerde is a chef and restaurateur. He's the chef and owner of the Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore. Spike Gjerde, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. SPIKE GJERDEIt's great to be here. Thanks for having us.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, start calling now, 800-433-8850, or go to our website, kojoshow.org. When you think of Chesapeake regional cuisine, what kind of foods come to mind? You can also send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or a tweet, @kojoshow.
NNAMDISpike Gjerde, a lot of people who've lived in this part of the world for their entire lives have never seen a fish pepper like these I'm looking at right now. But you learned that this pepper was grown around here centuries ago before it faded into obscurity. How did you stumble upon the fish pepper? And why did you end up learning so much from it?
GJERDEI was reading, and my first -- I came across it in the writings of William Woys Weaver, who is a great chronicler of mid-Atlantic cooking, Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, Chesapeake cooking, and he mentioned the fish pepper. He mentioned the role that it played in Chesapeake cooking going back, as you said, centuries. And then I read it -- I read about it again in the writings of Michael Twitty, who's a chronicler of the African and Afro-Caribbean influence on mid-Atlantic and in Southern cooking.
GJERDEAnd we got fired up about it. I found it in a seed catalog called Landreth, which is an amazing repository of incredible heirloom varieties that have had a history of being grown in the mid-Atlantic. And we connected those seeds with some of our amazing growers that are near us, around us in Baltimore. And the first year, we got, which was two years ago, we got literally a handful of fish peppers. But we loved the flavor, loved what they did in hot sauce, loved what they did as...
NNAMDII'm looking at the hot sauce.
GJERDEYes. We call it snake oil, and we bottle it. We bottle it in the restaurant for use in the restaurant and for sale. And, yeah, be careful. It's a -- a little goes a long way.
NNAMDIWell, I'm not drinking any snake oil on the air. Not today.
GJERDEYeah. I hope you taste it, though, 'cause it's something else, and you'll taste that bright -- that fruitiness that -- it's balanced with the heat. And we just -- and so the year after, we got several thousand pounds of fish peppers from those same growers and turned it into the hot sauce, turned it into our fish pepper powder and turned it into these pickled guys you see here in the jar.
NNAMDIYou've got to wonder, why did they ever stopped growing fish peppers in the first place? I mean, I just love the smell of it.
GJERDEIt's a great question. I think it -- that is one of the big questions about a lot of what has happened and what we've lost from the mid-Atlantic from our growing region, from our cuisine and our agriculture is, why did we ever stop? And fish peppers are my favorite example because they're the ones we've been able to bring back first and most at this point.
NNAMDIBut not the only example.
NNAMDIThe fish pepper is not the only bygone bounty from this region. You like to call attention to the fact that, at one point, wheat was the number one export from the port of Baltimore. What happened?
GJERDEWell, wheat kind of -- as our soils were exhausted and -- you know, the very first crop, as most people know, around -- the first kind of cash crop around the mid-Atlantic was tobacco. And tobacco is very difficult to grow and very hard on soil. So as soils became depleted and worn out, wheat became a filling crop and a cash crop that was milled -- was grown and milled and exported out of Baltimore, back to the Caribbean, to the sugar plantations there, and also back to Europe, to Ireland and then England.
GJERDEAnd, you know, again, I think as we became more focused on, as a country and as a culture, on quantity over quality and, you know, what can be grown in the Midwest superseded or somehow replaced what we did for ourselves.
NNAMDIYou know, I'm looking at the snake oil hot sauce made from the fish pepper here and thinking about the fact that when you lose connection to the fact that we can grow fish peppers here, I guess you lose connection to the foods we make from things like fish peppers as well. What's your sense for how this has played out here in the Chesapeake region?
GJERDEI think we have ceded a lot of what we eat and what made this region such a special place for food and made Maryland and Chesapeake cooking one of the great early cuisines of this country. We've ceded a lot of that, first the growing of it and now the appreciation of it, to other areas. And so some of the things we eat now are kind of -- you know, I personally think if you eat a crab cake that's not made from Chesapeake Bay crab, you're kind of eating a simulation of a crab cake.
GJERDEYou're not eating a great Chesapeake Bay crab cake. And, unfortunately, you know, there's literally tons of crabmeat coming in from the Pacific or from Venezuela, and it's not the same stuff. And when we do that, we do lose a connection, an important connection not only to the food but the production of the food. And that's culture. That's economy, and that's ultimately ecology (unintelligible).
NNAMDII'd like to hear what our listeners think about that. What do you find happens to our cooking styles when we lose our connection to the local foods grown around us? 800-433-8850. But, Chef Spike, you consider pickling and preserving to be part of that culinary style that may have been lost.
GJERDEIt's part of the style, but it's also part of the technology that we need to feed ourselves. If we're going to be serious about supporting local farming and local agriculture and our local food economy, pickling and preserving is something that takes our seven-month growing season that we have here in the mid-Atlantic and turns it into a 12-month eating season. And I love -- I happen to love the taste of pickles. I love to be able to use dried tomatoes and dried strawberries in my recipes. But, ultimately, it's a question of, you know, of extending our ability to support local growers.
NNAMDIWell, I'll be having pickled fish peppers during the break right -- not right now.
GJERDEI hope so. We have pickled ramps as well if you really want to go for it.
NNAMDIAll right. Local sourcing and sustainability have been almost -- have almost become bumper sticker kind of phrases in modern cuisine. At what point did you decide that is what you wanted to do at Woodberry Kitchen? And how would you describe the model that you eventually adopted?
GJERDEMy approach evolved over 20-odd years in the restaurant business in Baltimore. And, like a lot of chefs, I had a fairly conventional approach to picking up the phone and ordering ingredients from various vendors and purveyors. But over that time, I started to connect with growers at farmers' markets and folks that I was meeting that were in -- well, at that point, around Baltimore. And I started to realize that I had a tremendous affinity for -- to learn from them and to talk to them and try to convey that to my guests.
GJERDEAnd so what I found I was doing was going and loading up on greens and anything I could get at the farmers' markets on Saturday and Sunday. And that became more and more important to me until everything else kind of fell away. And what I wanted to do with my wife, Amy, was to create a restaurant that was just about that and didn't have any other baggage, no other kind of concept around it, except let's see what we can do within this local food system.
GJERDELet's see how closely we can work with growers and see what role we can play as a connection between that economy, that -- those growers and the people that are growing and processing our food and the people that are going to -- the community around it that would appreciate eating it.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking with Chef Spike Gjerde. He's a chef and restaurateur. He's the chef and owner of the Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore. He's the one on the air, but it's my understanding that it is his wife, Amy, who makes the Woodberry Kitchen train run on time, so to speak.
NNAMDIHere is Daniel in Great Falls, Va. Daniel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANIELGood morning, Kojo. Good morning, chef. How are you?
DANIELSo I had a question. I'm actually a cook. And I've had some good fortune to work around a lot of the restaurants in the D.C. area. I've also had the chance to work with guys like Sean Brock. And I've seen what Rene Redzepi (unintelligible). I've really, you know, started to go in the same vein as looking for hyperlocal ingredients and more native plants.
DANIELPart of the problem that I run into, though, is that it's very hard to source native plants because the demand isn't nearly as great for, say, a fish pepper as it is for a local heirloom tomato or something that's a bit -- I mean, so good but more generic to a menu. I was wondering if you could talk about how, you know, a restaurant that has to do 150 or 200 covers in an evening can sort of find these ingredients and make them more compatible with their menus.
NNAMDIIn other words, what are you doing?
GJERDEWhat we're doing is -- I totally appreciate the question, and what it comes down to, I think, ultimately is a relationship -- or not a relationship but many, many, many relationships. And once you can establish a relationship with a grower and they know that you're going to -- you know, you're going to buy what you say you're going to buy and you're going to pay for it and it becomes kind of a shared goal to grow and to work together, then you can start to have the conversation of what do you want me to grow and we could really use this.
GJERDEAnd, yeah, absolutely. How about something other than heirloom tomatoes? How about growing some fish peppers? How about growing -- I mean, you name it. And let's take a stab at Mara des Bois strawberries or bronze fennel. These are things that I've encouraged growers to grow, and they've been amazing. And so it's a relationship thing, and I've tried to do it -- you know, one-off dinners here and there.
GJERDEAnd you make some phone calls, and you don't get anywhere because, you know, a farmer is not going to get in his truck and drive an hour, you know, to sell some random guy a case of potatoes. And I've been that guy, you know, asking a farmer for a case of potatoes. What works and what -- the only way that it works, in my opinion, is to develop relationships with growers that are sustainable in the sense that they sustain both the restaurant and the grower.
DANIELYes. Thank you.
NNAMDI...thank you very much for your call.
DANIELThank you very much.
NNAMDIYou, too, can call us, 800-433-8850. When you think of Chesapeake regional cuisine, what kind of foods come to mind? You can also send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Can we go back to the fish pepper for a minute? When is the season for growing the peppers? What kind of calendar are you working with?
GJERDEWhere -- they're in the ground now. They're flowering, and they will -- or shortly. And we will be harvesting end of July, August, and through the month of August, depending on the weather, depending on the -- what we come up with. And we will be going right into the production of the hot sauce, the drying for the powders and the pickling that you see here.
NNAMDIYou describe the Chesapeake culinary style that's faded as a kind of Creolized style of cuisine. If we were to travel back in time, oh, say, 200 years, where would we have seen Afro-Caribbean or Native American influences on the cuisine here?
GJERDEI think one of the interesting things about the Chesapeake cuisine as it developed was that it really started to develop 400 years ago. And I think it's one of the reasons, in my opinion, that it's maybe not well understood and well chronicled and as celebrated as, say, the cuisine of Louisiana, New Orleans, the cuisine of -- even Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, all of which came a lot, lot later than what started here in Maryland in the 1600s.
GJERDESo by 1630, you had permanent settlements in the state, and you had, as I've come to understand it, the interweaving of these disparate traditions, African or Afro-Caribbean, Native American and, you know, European, Anglo kind of influences. And I think of the reasons that happened was because folks -- Europeans that settled around the Chesapeake were principally concerned with growing tobacco.
GJERDEAnd so unlike, say, New England where there was this, I think, a concerted attempt to kind of establish a European-style colony with a European-style agriculture and cooking, we had more of -- we're growing tobacco, and, oh yeah, we need to feed ourselves. And so we're going to depend on Native Americans and their ability to grown corn and other things. Certainly, Africans that started to arrive as slaves brought their own influences and their own ingredients.
GJERDEI believe fish pepper is among them, certainly okra, sweet potatoes/jams, ingredients like that, and then some of the traditions that also made their way over from Europe. So you had these three strands kind of interweaving and creating something that was Creolized in the sense that combined to create something that was wholly new.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. You can find some of Chef Spike Gjerde's recipes on our website, kojoshow.org. I'm going to be asking for a recipe for the pepper pot stew with local Marvesta shrimp once we get off the air. But you can still call us at 800-433-8850 with your comments or questions. Send us email to email@example.com, or a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our Food Wednesday conversation with Chef Spike Gjerde. He is a chef and restaurateur chef and owner of the Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore. I have just sampled the pickled fish pepper and the local whole wheat bread, both good. Where does the bread come from?
GJERDEWe're baking that in the restaurant in our wood-burning oven.
NNAMDIGood grief, I think I'm going to move. 800-433-8850 is the number to call if you like to join the conversation. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Let's go to Glenn in Bethesda, Md. Glenn, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GLENNHey, Kojo. How are you today?
GLENNThanks for taking my call. Yeah, I'm a local grower. I've been playing around with heirloom tomatoes for better than 20 years now. I've got some varieties that I really prefer. I'm growing some of the different heirloom corns, and the pepper that I really like is called Ají dulce. It's like a habanero but with very little heat. So it's got this really nice buttery flavor. But I'm trying to find somebody to -- who's interested in this stuff.
GJERDEWho's, what, interested?
GJERDEI can say -- I mean, we're categorically interested in trying to work with growers, and that sounds like -- did you say, corn?
GLENNYeah, I've got this one tricolor heirloom. It's a Bantam corn. It's only about 3 1/2, 4 feet tall but short ears, real -- it's a sweet little thing, but it's not a hybrid. It's one that was in production up to about five years ago. You can't find it anymore.
GJERDEIs it a field corn or a sweet corn?
GLENNIt's a sweet corn. It's a little Bantam sweet corn.
GJERDEAnd are you growing it? Are you able to grow it organically?
GLENNI'm -- I eschew word organic because it's really been co-opted by the -- but I'm growing without any chemical fertilizers and without any chemical pesticides.
GJERDEThat's awesome, and that's what we're looking for. I think corn is one of the big, most exciting things that we can kind of try to connect with. You know, clearly, corn is a mainstay of the -- everybody's thinking about this region. But we have a long way to go, I think, in the way it's grown. And if you're able to do that with limited inputs or no inputs at all...
GLENNYeah, that's -- well, I've got friends who are horse people and cow people, so I have access to very good fertilizer. And...
GLENN...I (unintelligible) the Shenandoah, and I have about 8 feet of alluvial soil deposit. So I have absolute super soil.
GJERDEHow much ground are you on?
GLENNThe Shenandoah -- the North Fork of the Shenandoah.
GJERDENo, how much land?
GLENNOh, we have three acres, but I've got about -- only about an eighth of it in production and -- but I -- there's other acres I could get a hold of. But I'm -- I've been in the experiment stage...
NNAMDIWell, Glenn, here's what we're going to do, Glenn. We're going to you put on hold and take your number so that you can connect further with Chef Spike Gjerde if that's what you want to do. But got to tell you, WAMU has to get the finder's fee for this is we bring you two together.
GJERDECould be the start of beautiful thing.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. One of the relationships that the average eater may be losing not just here but everywhere is a relationship with a local butcher. It's my understanding that you actually do butchering in your restaurant itself. Can you describe what happens there with your meat and then tell us what you've brought here?
GJERDEAbsolutely. It's -- we were obviously sourcing from local growers, but we felt like our ability to do so was limited by the fact that we are buying cuts. And they weren't getting the absolute maximum benefit of our purchases because we were buying a loin here or a leg there. And what we started doing about two years ago -- and we just did it as a lot of things. It was very much kind of a ready, fire, aim kind of deal -- was that we bought a whole pig. And one of the chefs and I just kind of looked at it, and he basically started our whole animal butchery program right then and there.
GJERDEAnd, since then, he's kind of taken the ball and run with it. We get all whole animals into the restaurant, you name it, usually a whole steer, two to three pigs, goats, lambs, whatever we're using. And we're buying them all directly from the grower, and we're buying the whole animal. So they get the entire benefit of that sale. Nothing goes to waste, and we're compelled if we're going to be good at what we do to use the entire thing. And that works for us.
GJERDEIt would be a challenge, I think, in a smaller place, but it certainly makes our relationship with the grower as productive as it can be on both sides, and it also allows us to work with guys that have not a lot of animals running. So, you know, they're not going to be able to sell us eight pork loins, but they can sell us a whole pig. And that's a huge difference. And we're trying to support those guys that maybe are just starting out or maybe -- or, you know, or maybe it's one of many things that they do, but they need to sell that pig.
GJERDESo clearly one of the benefits and one of the results of that is a curing program -- I guess you could call it -- that involves certainly hams. We're trying -- we're very interested in the great Maryland hams of yore. And this we brought today is a kind of a Coppa style cured pork shoulder, very similar to ham and delicious. It's on our butcher board, as you can see here. We've paired it with a little bit of our pickled ramps from earlier this season and a little Pipe Dreams goat cheese from Pennsylvania.
NNAMDIBack, back. There are people trying to break through the door to get at it.
NNAMDII'd like to go to the phones, but one more note about history before we get back to the food. The site of your restaurant is sort of a story of local revival in itself. What's the story behind the Clipper Mill?
GJERDEClipper Mill was one of the great mills that radiated outwards from downtown Baltimore, in our case, up the Jones Falls valley and which -- they're just spectacular old buildings with tremendous industrial history. Ours was a foundry at one point. It was a sale cloth or cotton duck factory at one point and many other things. And we are kind of at the center of that in one of the cool old spaces there and just a beautiful old brick building that's come back to life, I think, after kind of going dark for a few years with incredible artists and craftspeople around us as well as residents and offices.
NNAMDIWell, we'll get back to the main point of this conversation right now because it's my understanding that, inside that building itself, usually, it's your wife, Amy, who you credit for the place's success.
GJERDEWell, Amy is a -- yes, she is kind of the -- she is the voice of reason, I think, in the restaurant and -- which we need a lot to keep us on track. And we have -- there are a lot of great ideas, I think, that are always buzzing around the place. But Amy keeps us -- I mean, none of it makes any difference at all if we can't execute and create a great experience for our guests.
GJERDEAnd Amy's focus from the very first minute at Woodberry was to create and maintain that experience. And so I love talking about this stuff and thinking about it and doing it, but ultimately I think the credit for the fact that Woodberry -- if it's a great place and if you enjoy yourself -- she gets the lion's share of that credit.
NNAMDIWhy does that not surprise me?
NNAMDIWhen people hear that you want to start such a locally focused kitchen in a place like, oh, the San Francisco Bay Area where Alice Waters does it, it makes sense to them. What gave you the confidence that there was the local bounty around to do it in this region?
GJERDEProbably a level of ignorance that I only realize now. You know, it just helped, you know, that a knowledge, I guess, is a dangerous thing, and we had that idea. But, you know, in all honesty, the first year was tough. And it got a little weird at times, and we rationalized some decisions that we would never do now.
GJERDEBut at the same time that we were thinking about these things, there were many, many hundreds of other people that were thinking along the same lines, and they are the growers and also our guests who appreciate it and get it. And now, you know, we're having this conversation. It's incredible. I can't say that I had a lot of confidence that it would work, but I knew if it didn't work, there was nothing else I wanted to do in food.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking with Chef Spike Gjerde. He's the chef and owner of the Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore, inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you think food from the Chesapeake region short shrifted when compared to other parts of the country like the Carolinas or the Louisiana coast? How so? 800-433-8850. Here is Dionysius in Charlottesville, Va. Dionysius, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
DIONYSIUSHi, Kojo. This is always -- food is always a fun topic. I love talking about it. I'm actually from Maryland originally, grew up around the Bay. And I'm on my way to Annapolis now to have a seafood lunch 'cause I miss having Maryland seafood now that I live in Charlottesville, Va. My question is actually about Chesapeake culinary tradition. When I think back about Maryland history, especially, you know, the guest is from Baltimore, I think about Lord Baltimore.
DIONYSIUSI think about the strong Catholic tradition. And I was just curious if that has had any influence on how Marylanders think about seafood, how they thought about it traditionally. And maybe more generally, are there any differences in the seafood styles between Maryland and Virginia for -- maybe for that, you know, religious reason or for other cultural reasons?
GJERDEI'm -- that is not a part of my -- that's a great question. I'd like to look into that, but I'm not -- I can't say that that has been -- that I've picked up on that yet, the Catholic influence on what's going on around, especially in Maryland.
NNAMDILooks like -- go ahead, please.
GJERDEMaryland and Virginia, I think we share, you know, one of the greatest resources in the history of the world, which is the Chesapeake Bay. And a lot of what we do relates back -- you know, our thinking about food invariably seems to find its way back to the Bay. And I think that's appropriate because a lot of what we do, a lot of the, you know, the agriculture that we do and a lot of other things that we do in this area finds it way back to the Bay in a literal sense. And so we -- you know, that's -- it's a huge -- it's a resource, but it's much, much more than that. I think of it as our Yellowstone.
GJERDEIt's one of the greatest natural resources and great -- I mean, greatest natural kind of phenomenon that I'm aware of. And I think we've come close to wasting it. And I think, at this point, you know, we focus our -- we try to understand the Bay as a resource for fish and shellfish, and we try to understand, you know, what's it's going to take to help bring it back or to save it, if that's possible.
GJERDEOne of the, I think, the principal differences between us and Virginia to go off -- slightly off on your question is, you know, the fact that Virginia still has a commercial menhaden fishery. And it's just -- it's unthinkable that this principal forage fish is being taken out of the Bay by the millions to make fish food and dog food. And they don't even have a really, you know, a use for it -- and low-grade fish oil, which there are so many better, better options now.
GJERDEAnd we could end this thing, and we could have a much more vibrant Bay. I mean, the Bay is -- you know, anything you hear about the Bay is that we are -- we're on the razor's edge with it. And I think that's -- to me, when you talk about the difference between Maryland and Virginia, it's the commercial menhaden fishery that we need to talk about.
NNAMDIDionysius, thank you very much for your call. We got an email from Cecilia -- comment on our website, actually. "Has Chef Spike heard of or made Southern Maryland stuffed ham? As far as I know, it's only made in Charles, St. Mary's and Calvert counties. I first ate my aunt's over 50 years ago and have introduced many to stuffed ham since. I'm not sure of its exact origins, but understand it could have come from Southern Maryland slaves or recipes from England or a hybrid."
GJERDEYes, clearly. And it's -- it is, I think, one of the great examples of that hybridized or Creolized, you know, combining of traditions. And we have made Maryland stuffed ham and -- or we thought we did. And we even took it up and made it on the "Today Show" last year. And then we got some -- we didn't realize that there were Maryland stuffed ham -- people that were very passionate about what Maryland stuffed ham is and isn't. And our particular interpretation maybe took a few too many liberties.
GJERDEBut, basically, it's a corned or cured ham that is stuffed and sometimes packed with a kind of a heavily spiced mixture of greens – kale, collards. You could put onions, cabbages and/or sauerkraut in it. And we happen to use our fish pepper powder in that as well. And then the whole thing is either -- is kind of braised or boiled, or, in our case, we roasted it for a little while.
GJERDEAnd it's awesome however you make it. And I thought ours was amazing, but the more traditional way, where it's kind of wrapped up in a T-shirt or a bag, is beautiful, too. And we have messed around with that, but got to be careful what you call a stuffed ham around here.
NNAMDISpeaking of the "Today Show" and television, we got an email from Jeremy in Frederick County, who says, "HBO's doing this show right now by David Simon that sings the praises of Cajun cooking. I think Anthony Bourdain does some of the writing for it. You need to get David to branch back to Baltimore and get some of your stuff from the Chesapeake on that show." Well, we know David Simon is around these parts 'cause he called in on this show just last week.
GJERDEIt would be great to -- you know, I think that show, "Treme," is awesome, and it would be neat to -- I really appreciate how they've, you know, woven the culinary side, the restaurant side and the food side into the story.
NNAMDIOn to John in Silver Spring, Md. John, your turn.
JOHNMy wife and I ate at the restaurant maybe a little bit more than a month ago after a concert up at the Meyerhoff. And what a wonderful discovery that was. Yeah, the location is fantastic in that old mill area. And -- but the food was just so great, and the experience inside the restaurant, the wait staff, everything, it was perfect, one of the best meals I've had in a long, long time.
NNAMDIAnd, John, Chef Spike Gjerde didn't ask you to call in, did he?
GJERDEThe check is in the mail, John. Thank you.
NNAMDIBut, Jeff -- John, thank you very much for calling. You, too, can call us, 800-433-8850. You were, in fact, kind enough to share a few recipes with us today we've put up on our website, kojoshow.org. Let's start with your approach to the Tilghman Island crab cake. The blue crab is synonymous with Chesapeake cuisine. How would you describe your approach to the crab cake?
GJERDEMinimal and minimally seasoned and, first and foremost, made with Chesapeake Bay blue crabmeat. So we have a number of -- well, actually, not too many great picking houses. The last of a tremendous culture of crab picking is principally on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake extending down through, you know, Tilghman Island and Hooper's Island and down into Crisfield.
GJERDEWe get our crabmeat from one of those houses that's still down there in Hooper's Island. And it gets driven up to us directly by a guy that also brings us soft crabs in season and a good friend and, you know, somebody like a lot of these things that have just turned, you know, from a kind of a buyer relationship into a friendship that we really treasure. And that's where it all starts.
GJERDEAnd if you taste great, fresh Chesapeake Bay blue crab, there's not much you want to do to it. It has a unique sweetness and flavor and richness that no other crabmeat, in my humble opinion, can match. And so we take a little bit of mayonnaise -- homemade or otherwise -- an egg, and the smallest, you know, almost irrelevant quantity of breadcrumbs, and then we just gently spice it with a little bit of our fish pepper -- but you can use any red pepper -- and a little black pepper and salt.
NNAMDIOn to -- oh, no, there's another question. What's your strategy for crab seasoning? How do you feel about what seems to be a resurgence for the blue crab in the Bay?
GJERDEI'm excited. You know, we are -- we wait every spring to hear the survey results that measure blue crab numbers in the Bay. And this year they were generally up, a little mixed. There were a lot of adolescents, and I think there was some -- we were trying to understand why there were fewer -- there seemed to be fewer mature females, but the numbers were very, very high, the highest they've been in many years.
GJERDEAnd that's exciting, and that's a positive sign. But I think -- you know, I'd hate to say that, you know, we've kind of turned a corner or something because I don't think we still fully understand what impacts those numbers. But the numbers are up, and that's a positive thing. The blue -- the soft crabs that we've been seeing in the restaurant are spectacular.
NNAMDIA lot of people want to talk to you. So if you're trying to get through right now, the phone lines are busy. We'll try to get to all of those calls. But if you're trying to get through right now, go to our website, kojoshow.org, or send email to email@example.com, or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Our guest is Chef Spike Gjerde, chef and owner of the Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore. It's Food Wednesday. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our Food Wednesday conversation with Chef Spike Gjerde. He is the chef and owner of the Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. But if the lines are busy, go to our website, kojoshow.org, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We got this email from Jonathan. "What recipe foods has the chef found that translate well, like the peppers, and what doesn't translate into today's palate, for example, a recipe for barbecue otter? Or is he even looking at old-time recipes?"
NNAMDIHe says, "Please continue sharing all the hidden treasures your guest discovered or rediscovered. But, please, tell me: Can I buy fish oil hot sauce online? Is there a link on the kojoshow website? Also, what other local restaurants offer these local old-time foods?" Answer as many as you can, please, chef.
GJERDEFish -- our snake oil...
GJERDE...yes, is going to get bottled in -- next month. And so we will have it online then on the Web, so woodberrykitchen.com. And you can get it at the restaurant right now. We have a small quantity. And we'll have -- we've got about 400 gallons ready to roll. So they'll be -- it'll be around. What were the other...
NNAMDIWhat it goes well with. What goes well with what and what doesn't go well with, like, fish peppers?
GJERDEI think, you know, one thing we've struggled with -- you know, when you look at older recipes, and there wasn't as -- there wasn't a hesitance towards fat. And, like, we have this short pork shoulder in front of it -- in front of us, and it's nicely marbled. And we found guests have kind of a hesitancy towards, you know, pork fat and things that we think are really delicious and certainly were esteemed in the past.
GJERDEAnd when we lay it on a little too thick, you might say our guests have kind of recoiled. And we have to keep that in mind. But we haven't come up against a lot of things where people were just like, ugh, you know? I think we don't give our predecessors in -- you know, around here in Baltimore and in Maryland and around the Chesapeake Bay enough credit for the food that they ate and how delicious it was and how much they enjoyed it and how big a part of their lives it was.
NNAMDIHere's Tony in Olney, Md. Tony, your turn. Thank you for waiting.
TONYThank you, Kojo. I was calling about a dish, a 19th century dish called chicken Maryland. Years ago when I was living in Scotland, I saw this on a menu. And it turned out to be boiled chicken with a pineapple ring and a maraschino cherry, but with the name Maryland, as in the state. And I thought, I don't think that's from our state.
TONYAnd then after doing some research, I discovered it was a popular recipe. It was actually -- came to fried chicken with a white sauce. And, most recently, I saw a copy of the final menu from the Titanic. And, lo and behold, chicken a la Maryland was featured. Could your guest talk a bit about this lost dish?
NNAMDII was just telling the guest how some of our callers do their own independent research without having a clue that you were one of those guests, Tony, but here's chef Spike Gjerde.
GJERDENo, I love that. And my understanding of chicken Maryland is, yeah, without the pineapple ring and cherry, but as kind of a -- some version of fried, either pan-fried or -- but fried in fat with a, like you said, like a white cream sauce. And one of the cool things about our friend, the fish pepper, is that it has a recessive gene that makes it set white fruit. And so every few fish peppers on a -- each plant will be white.
GJERDEAnd one of the tricks that old cooks used to use was to take those white fish peppers that don't take on any color but have the heat and grind those up and make a white chili powder that they could flavor that sauce with without giving away the fact that there was a little fish pepper in there 'cause the flecks would be white. But the interesting thing, I think, about chicken and Maryland is that, you know, we -- obviously, Maryland is still a big chicken state.
GJERDEAnd that association goes back centuries, and I think people associated chicken with Maryland. I think -- I happen to think that our fried chicken kind of predated and probably inspired other versions, other states' versions, I guess we could say, of fried chicken. And there still seems to be that association of chicken and Maryland, especially frying chicken, that goes back, you know, a long way.
NNAMDITony, thank you very much for your call. You've also provided us with the recipe for Five Seeds fingerling potatoes and sorrel. Where do potatoes fit into the list of local ingredients that you love around here? And where do you look for the potatoes you eventually serve at the restaurant?
GJERDEWe've got -- this is -- you know, this is a thing that goes to -- speaks to our relationships with some of our growers. And now we're confident enough that we can buy, you know, enough potatoes that we can encourage growers to plant them. And so we've asked growers to plant varieties like Peter Wilcox and La Ratte and Bintje and various fingerlings. And yesterday I was out at a farm, Five Seeds Farm, which is actually an urban farm in Baltimore, with the farmer Denzel Mitchell. And he had some potato plants that had just set some flowers, and so we pulled them up.
GJERDEAnd they were the most beautiful, little thumb-size fingerlings, almost pinky-size fingerlings you've ever seen. And we were able to compose a dish just from ingredients on his farm, which I think the recipe is now -- I mean, they were on his farm yesterday, which was sorrel, some beautiful baby leeks, the potatoes themselves. He grows fish pepper, so I added a pinch of fish pepper powder to that. And we just boiled it simply. I added a teaspoon of butter to kind of coat the potatoes with the sorrel, and it was delicious.
NNAMDIAnd for the uninitiated, what's sorrel?
GJERDESorrel is a leafy green that has a really bright, almost acidic kind of sourness. So it's a classic ingredient in French cooking, in sorrel sauce, and it just -- it really gives a little bit of citric kind of punch.
NNAMDIAnd speaking of earlier fish pepper, here is Christine in Kensington, Md. Christine, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISTINEHi, Kojo. Great show. I just -- as a gardener, I wanted to know where you could obtain the seeds for the fish pepper.
GJERDEOur favorite source is the Landreth, L-A-N-D-R-E-T-H, seed catalog and -- or seed company. And the catalog that they put out is a beautiful document. And it's full of not only fish pepper seeds but seeds -- heirlooms and heritage varieties that have been grown in the mid-Atlantic for, you know, going back hundreds of years. And Michael Twitty has a -- who I mentioned earlier, has an assortment of seeds that he -- that kind of expressed the African contributions to this part of the world to our food here. So there's a lot there, and the fish pepper seeds are definitely there.
CHRISTINEOK. Thank you very much.
NNAMDIAnd thank you for your call, Christine. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850 if you have comments or questions for Chef Spike Gjerde. Baltimore is famous for markets like Cross Street Market, Lexington Market. Where do you like to go to get food?
GJERDEWe shop the farmer's markets that are, you know, thankfully are increasing in number and quality all the time. The great one under the -- or at the foot of the highway in the city on Sunday mornings is still a favorite. The Waverly Market is a favorite. The great enclosed markets -- I mean, we have a tremendous market tradition in Baltimore, and they are great places to go. They're especially great to go and hang out and get a bite to eat.
GJERDEI also like the market at Belvedere Square, which is an interesting blend of, you know, kind of old and new. And I think, you know, the markets are something that are special to Baltimore and should be a part of the food scene going forward. I would love to see more local product, more of these local things that we love so much find their way into the markets and kind of reenergize them.
NNAMDIBack to the telephones where we have two individuals by the name of Samantha. I will first go to Samantha in Washington, D.C. Samantha, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SAMANTHAHi there. My husband and I drove from D.C. up to Baltimore last weekend, Saturday, just to have dinner at your wonderful restaurant, and although -- my crab cakes are pretty wonderful. I often don't order them in a restaurant because they don't match mine. But I ordered yours on Saturday, and it was fabulous.
GJERDEAwesome. Well, thank you so much.
NNAMDIMatched yours, Samantha.
NNAMDISamantha, hold for a second, please, so we can hear what Samantha in Woodbine, Md. has to say. Samantha in Woodbine, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SAMANTHAHi, guys. Chef Spike, I just wanted to thank you for what you brought to all of Baltimore. You have become a habitual ritual in me and my friends' lives on the weekend. The Woodberry Kitchen is such a great cultural and food experience, and you're really in a testament to the natural food and the -- at affordable prices at that. And I just wanted to say, whenever anyone comes into town, their first request is, when are we going to Woodberry Kitchen? So thank you for bringing such an amazing experience to Baltimore. We really needed it for a long time, and I love it.
GJERDEThank you so much. I really appreciate that.
NNAMDISamantha in Woodbine, thank you very much for your call. Samantha in Washington, D.C., who's also been going on weekends, don't you think there should a discount at the restaurant for people named Samantha?
SAMANTHAI don't know how many of us were there on Saturday night, but...
NNAMDIIt seems like there was a bunch of you there on Saturday night.
GJERDEBut, you know one of the nicest things to hear is that people have made the trip in, you know, up from D.C., and it's great to feel now that we have a connection to this city and the surrounding areas. And, you know, that's a lot of about what -- you know, that's what we do, and it's great that -- I really appreciate it when people make the trip up.
NNAMDISamantha, thank you very much for your call. You, too, can call us, 800-433-8850. It's my understanding that you're also borderline obsessed with coffee. Where does that obsession come from? And what are your plans for starting a coffeehouse in Baltimore all about?
GJERDEWell, it started, you know, with a single -- with an espresso macchiato on the pier at the Ferry Building in San Francisco from Blue Bottle. And even though I've had coffee and espresso in restaurants for years, that just opened my eyes to what was possible with coffee and how great it could be. And so as we were building the restaurant, we opened and operated a small coffee shop, kind of a pop-up before that was, I think, even a thing.
GJERDEAnd we did that for about six months and really, really became obsessed with making great coffee and serving it to our guests. And so we translated that little coffee shop into the coffee program at Woodberry. And we have the same barista since -- for the whole time, and now she and I and Amy are going to make our -- are creating a coffee shop that kind of recreates what we did. We called it Artifact back then, and we're calling it Artifact again.
GJERDEAnd, to me, the exciting thing -- she's going to make amazing coffee. And we work with a roaster that helps us source directly. We have actual direct relationships with growers in Nicaragua and in El Salvador. And that's exciting for us 'cause it kind of -- it helps us understand, you know, the challenges of growing coffee organically and growing great coffee. And we love supporting farmers, so...
NNAMDIWell, we're glad you're obsessed with coffee because we want to bring you into the middle of a debate that we have going on right now in Washington about whether local coffee roasters should be allowed to sell their products at local farmers' markets.
NNAMDIWhere would you come down on that debate? Technically, the coffee is not grown here, but these are local businesses making a local product.
GJERDEYeah, it's a great question. And I think I would let them sell it if -- especially if -- you know, for me, the sourcing of the coffee -- and that's what -- the important thing that roasters, you know, that is overlooked in the role of a roaster a lot of times is the sourcing. And I think if the coffee is sourced directly, you know, fair trade is one level, but I think we can do a lot better. If there is a connection with the grower and then there's the local process, I think that's what makes it make sense.
GJERDEAnd, yeah, of course, coffee should be at farmers' markets. It's a great product. And I think that's -- you know, trying to find the best kind of rational answers to a lot of these things -- there's so little black and white in the world of kind of this local and sustainable food that we're trying to understand in how it's going to work.
GJERDEAnd, you know, we're looking backwards, but we're also looking forward to try to work within a food system that makes sense for everybody. And we get to decide, you know, what that's going to be. And I think, you know, this is one of those issues that it's -- I think we can find a way to do it.
NNAMDII also read in The Washington Post that you're hung up on the fact that you have not figured out how to make your own vinegar yet.
GJERDEWell, we can make it in small quantities. And it's great to have. We usually have a few dozen various little experiments going, and they're delicious. But we need to get vinegar, you know, in our -- at our place to a point where we're making 25 or so gallons at a time, so that I can make the fish pepper hot sauce and the pickling that we do with our own vinegar.
GJERDEAnd there are some challenges to that, but we're going to work through it. And, eventually, every -- all the vinegar will be based on some local agricultural products, whether it's local apple cider or a great local chardonnay or local, you know, (word?) wine or, you know, you name it. It'll be a local agricultural product.
NNAMDIHere's Huff (sp?) in Washington, D.C. Huff, we're running out of time. Could you make your question or comment brief?
HUFFYes, I can. How are you, Mr. Kojo and guest? How's everyone?
NNAMDIOh, forget that part. Move on.
HUFFGood, good. Well, OK. Anyway, I was -- I'm an entertainer, having performed all around the world, just coming back from Japan. And I perform a lot all over the D.C. area, including Baltimore, but I find it difficult to get good musical entertainment, live music into restaurants. And I was wondering what your thoughts are on that. And is that something that you might like to consider in your agenda?
NNAMDIGood question. You only have about 30 seconds or so to respond.
GJERDEOh, local music is part of the -- is definitely part of the mix. And we've had great, you know, musicians in the restaurant. I think it's -- I love it. And we do it on Sundays. And, yeah, I love having great, local, live music in the space. It's beautiful.
NNAMDIHuff, I'm very glad you were able to get your question in, and good luck to you. I'm afraid we're just about out of time. Spike Gjerde is chef and restaurateur. He's owner of the Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore. Chef Spike, thank you so much for joining us.
GJERDEThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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