As a preface to this post, I'm going to start with this sentence:
That was in an email sent to me when I agreed to help promote an event coming to Baltimore. I don't know if I would normally agree to promote anything on my website or social media accounts but this particular event was a near perfect intersection of a lot of my interests. On July 29th, Soul Food Sessions, is coming to Baltimore. In their own words, Soul Food Sessions
Yes, that's a lot to unpack but it's also something I've been deeply interested in especially after my experience helping Ida B's Table get off the ground. Soul Food Sessions, in partnership with Coca Cola Consolidated, has selected Baltimore as third stop of a four city tour called The Table is Set. The other three cities include Charlotte, NC; Washington, DC and Charleston, SC. The dinner will be at the American Brewery Building (1701 Gay Street) and will feature seven courses based on local ingredients including their version of a crab cake. You can get your tickets here.
In addition to promoting the event, part of the task/challenge/partnership included cooking up a recipe for crab cakes. More specifically, Charred Corn Crab Cakes with Watermelon Rind Slaw. While I consider myself pretty handy in the kitchen, I also considered this a challenge because I'm not particularly adept at following a recipe. It's not that I can't follow them, it's that I usually get bored by them and I never usually get to the end of the recipe so I usually end up ad libbing the dish which sometimes turns out well and other times, let's just call it a learning experience.
You can see why this partnership has so much appeal. It has elements of food history, social justice, cooking, crabs, corn, and another element from the world of social media that's relatively new to me. On top of that, Chef David Thomas from Ida B's will be participating in the dinner next Sunday. I've had the pleasure of working with Chef David in the context of building up Ida B's Table as more than just a restaurant. To me, Ida B's embodies Soul Food Sessions' mission and having the opportunity, through social media, to observe a city like Baltimore (and beyond), it's pretty clear that inequities still exist for people of color in the food industry not only when it comes opportunity through capital, jobs or recognition but also through how the story of southern/soul food is told. I could probably write pages on this topic but the best way to see it is just to come to the dinner week and experience it through the food and discussion.
I did find it fascinating that the dinner in Baltimore will be offering a crab cake. As you know, crab cakes are sacred in this city and it takes some chutzpah to offer one up and even more to ask people to make them in the run up to the dinner. The recipe for the crab cake included ingredients such as red bell peppers, charred corn, and sugar (what?) that you wouldn't necessarily find in a traditional Maryland crab cake. I don't have any intention of turning this blog post into a play by play of cooking a crab cake and the recipe is relatively straightforward so I'm just going to share some of my observations.
First, holy sh*t, the price of Maryland Jumbo Lump crab meat. At Harris Teeter, it was $39 for a pound. Granted, the recipe ended up yielding about 12 crab cakes but that's a pretty hefty price tag for crab meat. Hmm, I guess immigrants really do have a direct impact on our every day lives. Second, sugar? Not only that but 1/3 of a cup of sugar. That's a whole lot of sweetness to add to an ingredient with a whole lot of sweetness already. In addition, there's also some sweet corn and bell peppers. I don't have anything against sweet/savory dishes but if you do decide to make this, I would forgo the sugar. Third, watermelon rind slaw. Preparing this was interesting to say the least. Let's just say grating a watermelon rind with a box grater was a new and not necessarily pleasant experience. Also, I was a little surprised that the recipe didn't include a recipe for the sweet pepper vinaigrette for the slaw so you kind of had to play it by ear there.
Like I said, the recipe was pretty straightforward. I really enjoyed charring corn over direct heat (it's the small things in life right?) and I think the ratios for the crab cake need some tweaking in order to bind the cake together better even after letting them rest in the fridge for a while. For my first batch, they came apart slightly and for the second batch, I cheated a bit and added an egg wash with some more bread crumbs to prevent any flaking apart. Yes, egg wash is the solution to flaking. Overall, the crab cakes were a bit sweet for me but pretty damn flavorful. I like the corn and bell peppers but found myself looking for the sriracha so you could probably stand adding a ton more of that. I also found that these were less creamy than Maryland crab cakes and I didn't miss that there wasn't any Old Bay. I had reservations about the slaw but it added a good crunchy element and all the flavor really just came out from the vinaigrette so while watermelon rind is different and healthy, you could probably pass on the effort and just use some regular slaw.
The crab cakes probably would have turned out better if I also wasn't concentrating on make sure I took pictures and some video of the whole experience from the grocery store to plating. Also, plating. I suck at plating or rather I was so hungry that I didn't even think about plating. I was so hungry because the whole process took about 3 hours since I was concerned about making sure I documented everything. Lesson learned. Also, because the dinners are done in partnership with Coca-Cola Consolidated, they recommended that you pair the crab cakes with Coca-Cola Life which is sort of a cross between regular Coke, Coke Zero and Diet Coke. It's sweetened with sugar and Stevia which gives it a different type of sweetness but still pretty Coke adjacent.
Besides the crab cakes, the new social media experience and the mission, the best part of this blog post is that the best part hasn't even happened yet. The dinner next week should be a unique event in that not only will there be great food (notwithstanding the sugar) but should also be an enriching cultural experience. I suspect that there will be an update to this blog post after the dinner because but why wait for that and why not just come to the dinner? In case you missed the link up top, you can get tickets here. I'll be there and I hope to see all of you there too.
American Brewery, 1701 North Gay Street, Baltimore, MD 21213