WESTMINSTER, Md. -- There were some apprehensive looks on the audience’s faces as Chris Spear, executive chef at Carroll Lutheran Village, read off the star ingredients of the evening’s dinner: bologna, hot dogs, ground turkey and Apple Jacks cereal.
But as the diners tasted each of the five courses Spear and his staff had prepared, fear dissipated into amazement and enjoyment.
"Who knew it could taste this good for food that came off the shelf?" said participant John Byrd.
The unusual dishes, including corn bisque made from canned corn and hot dogs, were part of a fundraiser called "Off the Shelf" held at Carroll Lutheran Village recently to benefit Carroll County Food Sunday.
CCFS board member Zoa Barnes said she came up with the idea to challenge a professional chef to make a gourmet meal from the staples that Food Sunday regularly distributes to their low-income clients.
Barnes said that Spear was immediately interested in the idea, and word quickly spread about this imaginative event.
"I think as chefs we like this kind of thing," Spear said. "It’s kind of easy to throw a filet and a lobster on a plate and it’s a good meal, but I like being restricted like this."
Barnes said she could see this becoming a signature event in Carroll County.
The evening opened with an "Italian Style Pork Spread" served on white bread crostini.
"It’s made with bologna," Spear said, eliciting a laugh from the crowd. "Traditionally in Italy they use mortadella, which is basically bologna."
The spread was made with pureed bologna, ricotta cheese, heavy cream and nutmeg, served with white bread toast.
The appetizer was followed by the corn bisque, a favorite dish of Priscilla Teeter, a resident at Carroll Lutheran Village.
"The soup had a wonderful corn flavor in it, and you would never know you were eating hot dogs," she said with a smile.
Teeter said she was a little skeptical when she heard that the dinner would be built around food bank items, but when she learned about vouchers the clients are given to purchase fresh foods as well, her hopes were raised.
"This is really interesting and enlightening," she said.
Diner Frank Batavick said he thought the dishes were novel, and he liked all of the seasonal items used as well, such as the fall harvest turkey dish, which featured ground turkey and root vegetables wrapped in Swiss chard leaves.
"It just shows a lot of creativity," he said.
Joan Fogarty, of West minster, said she had also been uncertain about the foods she would be presented with, but was blown away by the results, such as the pineapple and Jack Daniel’s granita that had been made with canned pineapple juice.
"It’s just amazing; when they told you what was in it . I wouldn’t have thought it would taste that good," she said.
Ed Leister, chairman of Carroll County Food Sunday, opened the night by telling the guests they would be dazzled with the food, and found himself being dazzled as well.
"The food has been out of this world," Leister said. "I feel like I’m dining in a fancy restaurant in New York."
To those who couldn’t believe that these foods were made from such ordinary items, Spear assured the guests that they were capable of making similar dishes themselves.
"A lot of it is just seasonings and spices and basic cooking techniques -- you just have to be creative," Spear told the diners.
Barnes said she was pleased with the event.
"There’s nothing like this in Carroll," Barnes said. "We’re hoping this will be an annual event."