Friday, January 22, 2010

Stew II

The 2640 dining space for Stew II

Since November, Spro has sponsored the coffee for Stew - a food and arts project fundraiser from the crazy minds of Dane Nestor and crew. Charm City denizens may remember Dane, Nick and crew from the blistering cold nights on The Avenue in Hampden where they sold grilled cheese sandwiches and french fries from a cart until 4am on weekends last year. This year, they've turned their attention to the more hospitable climes of the 2640 St. Paul Space and the culinary high stylings of Woodberry Kitchen's Matt Day.

I've known these guys for a few years now and it was an honor to be invited for the original Stew in November 2009. Due to previous commitments, I was unable to be there for Stew, so when Stew II came around tonight, I just had to be there.

Jeremy and Kimmy rock out coffee for 120 people in twenty minutes.

Unlike most charity fundraisers that require attendees to have deep pockets, Stew II cost ten bucks for a five course dinner (BYOB), some entertainment and a chance to donate to some worthy charitable organizations in Baltimore. Over a hundred people sold out the event.

For me, it's absolutely thrilling to watch Kimmy and Jeremy in action, brewing coffee in a near frenzy to serve all the guests in as narrow a window as possible. The action started off slow, with not much coffee going on through most of the dinner. Then, as the dessert course neared, the orders started flowing in from the tables.

A coffee here, a decaf there. Four decafs. Another coffee, or two. Suddenly, the intensity ratcheted itself up a notch: 21 coffees, six decafs - and it skyrocketed from there. In an instant, it went from more than enough coffee to a two press pot shortage.

At this point, lesser baristas might lose their cool, lose their focus or just crumble altogether. My natural inclination was to step in and direct, but I also knew that it was time to sink or swim. They had to make it happen on their own. If I stepped in, that would put off their rising to the challenge. I stood back and watched them in action.

Chef Matt of Woodberry Kitchen confers with Katie of Charm City Cakes over dessert.

I've been there. I've been caught up in the rush of things, way over my head, barely treading water while caught in the weeds. Sink or swim. Do or die. In many ways, 120 eight ounce pressed coffees in 48z press pots is easy peasy - especially when compared to what they will attempt to surmount in project hampden, but it's a matter of keeping cool under fire, managing orders, keeping your mise together, going with the flow and working your way through the weeds.

In our little hamlet of Baltimore, there's been a growing anticipation for project hampden. Evidently, people have been talking about it and waiting expectantly. They're looking to see how we will execute and tonight our reputation is very much on the line as many of tonight's guests will be tasting our coffee for the very first time.

Secretly, I'm a bit on edge. But after all these months of training, I know they're ready for this challenge. In the end, I'm excited by their performance. Stoked, really. Proud? Very much so. They're dazzling and brilliant, and I can't wait until the day comes that we finally open the doors for people to try our coffee for themselves made by the hands of these fine baristas.