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Volume XVII, Issue 48 ~ November 26 - December 2, 2009

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photos courtesy of Fox Television

Chef Robert Hesse endured fiery Gordon Ramsay for the better part of two seasons on the Fox television show Hell’s Kitchen.

From Hell’s Kitchen to Solomons Island

Two-season survivor Robert Hesse signs on at Catamaran’s

After twice suffering under the heat of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, Robert Hesse has landed on his feet in our own back yard. Hesse is the only chef to compete on two seasons of the Fox reality series Hell’s Kitchen. In Season Five, the nearly 400-pound chef survived through Episode 11, but barely, after he bowed out due to a heart condition. Asked back by Ramsay for Season Six, Hesse endured the fiery-mouthed British chef for five sessions, until he was asked to leave Hell’s Kitchen in Episode Six.

Now, Hesse, of Quogue, New York, has unpacked his knives at Catamaran’s in Solomons, where he is the restaurant’s new executive chef.

“It’s awesome to have a chef like him in Southern Maryland,” said Catamaran’s owner Jim Seymour. Seymour who has owned the popular hangout since the mid-’90s, and said that he’s wanted to boost theCatamaran’s image as a fine-dining restaurant.

A graduate from the American Culinary Academy, Hesse has 15 years experience as a sous chef.

“Chef Robert is a four-star, French cuisine chef,” Seymour said. “He’s going to take Catamaran’s signature seafood and steaks and combine them with a great flair of his own.”

Hesse won’t be moving to Chesapeake Country or working Catamaran’s kitchen. Instead, he’ll plan the menu and train the front-line kitchen staff.

It’s not that Hesse doesn’t like Solomons. “It reminds me of my hometown,” he said when Bay Weekly caught up with him before Thanksgiving. But he’s got his own restaurant in New York to tend to.

Nowadays, however, he’s around a lot, and he likes to meet guests in the dining room, time allowing.

From Nov. 30 to Dec. 5, he’s in full time. On Thanksgiving, he’ll be on hand from noon to 3pm, when Catamarans joins forces with the volunteer good will organization SMILE to serve free dinner to all who care to join the feast.

On December 5, Hesse introduces Catamaran’s new menu at the restaurant’s grand reopening. Two of the dishes he’ll be serving, the celebrity chef says, are a salmon BLT and an appetizer called Bang-Bang Rock Shrimp, the shrimp fried tempura style and served with Aisan aioli.

–J. Alex Knoll

This Week’s Creature Feature

Let’s Talk Turkey

As November 26 approaches, millions of turkeys throughout the U.S. prepare to trade feeding for basting.

The president of the United States may pardon one bird every year, but the millions of turkeys without a presidential pardon are facing a hot oven. The National Turkey Federation estimated that last year 46 million turkeys gave their lives to our Thanksgiving tables. That’s one turkey for every 6.61 Americans.

There is an effort to stave off the holiday massacre.

Every year the United Poultry Concerns — a group that advocates the compassionate treatment of domestic fowl — holds a Vigil for Turkeys in Bethesda. Friday November 20, the group settled in front of a Giant Food store to protest the slaughter of the Thanksgiving staple.

Animal Rights juggernaut PETA likens having a turkey on your table to, well, we won’t say. You’ll have to visit their website for more information on the injustices of the turkey industry; their holiday commercial was banned from NBC broadcast.

The protests have yet to make a severe impact on the turkey industry. Last year 273 million birds were raised and consumed. Whether you find Tom Turkey sympathetic or delicious, you may want to bid the bird a fond farewell before heading to your holiday feast.

For ways to prepare a turkey:

For ways to protest turkey preparation:

They’re Off to See the Wizard

Stageworkz munchkins hit the big time

Pyrotechnics. A theater filled with 2,500 people. Bright stage lights. Even a green witch. None of this frightened the 12 young actors lent by hometown studio Stageworkz to Toto Touring, the company that takes The Wizard of Oz across America.

Twelve young actors from Stageworkz performed as munchkins in the Wizard of Oz at the Lyric Opera House in Baltimore.

In fact, such nightmares are the future they dream of.

“We’re a training ground for Broadway performers,” said Stageworkz’s Vicki Smith, who taught the kids the Munchkin moves they displayed on Baltimore’s Lyric Opera House stage November 13 to 15.

The audition for the big time came out of nowhere, in an e-mail seeking 12 performers who could sing and dance but were no more than five feet tall and no heavier than 100 pounds. Along with the call came the musical directions for “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead.”

“They had very good energy,” said Smith, “and exuded this message of pick me, pick me to the judges.”

Their message worked; the Stageworkz dozen beat two other schools of contenders.

“One girl started crying,” said Danielle Greco, 13, of the little company’s reaction to scoring its biggest booking. “We all started crying,” added Grace Sayers, 12, “and began jumping up and down.”

Then the dancers, ages 5 to 13, got to work. They ran through the routine again and again for six weeks to be up to the standards of Munchkin Coordinator Kim Reither.

The StageWorkz Munchkins thrived on the demands of dancing with stars. “It was one of the best experiences of my life,” said Anna Vallaril, 10, who’s danced since she was three years old. “It was just so fun being on stage performing, and all these people can hear and see you.”

“It was a dream come true,” added Sayers, who began dancing classes at the age of 2.

It’s a dream these kids hope to live for many years to come.

Where does Greco want to be when she’s 25? “Anywhere where I can do musical theater.”

–Jessica Wunsch