The upcoming referendum on gay marriage in Maryland has left a bad taste in the local hospitality community’s mouth.
So equality-minded toques are working to win the hearts and minds (and bellies) of gay-marriage supporters with a star-studded fundraiser Wednesday at the Ritz-Carlton West End. At issue is whether Marylanders will pull the plug on the Civil Marriage Protection Act signed into law this spring. And while it is a statewide initiative, members of the Maryland delegation are keeping tabs on the evolving situation. Activist chef and Washington Post contributor David Hagedorn, who created the annual Chef’s Best benefit for Food & Friends 22 years ago, told HOH he’d been looking for another cause to sink his teeth into when the Human Rights Campaign came a-calling about the Question 6 challenge.
He leapt into action, compiling a roster of local tastemakers he knew would attract gastronauts. Hagedorn admitted he was somewhat worried about approaching treasured restaurants — “places where I spend my own money,” he said — and possibly being shut down for political reasons, but he was delighted to discover no such pushback.
“This is all about fairness and equality. And I think everyone takes everything else out of the equation,” Hagedorn said.
Gov. Martin O’Malley will be on hand for the main event, while fashion guru and reality TV icon Tim Gunn is scheduled to emcee. Hagedorn said he’s carved out room for 400 at the formal dinner (6:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m.; $150 per person, thanks to an angel sponsor) and hopes to welcome 150 more to the all-inclusive after-party at Graffiato (10 pm.-1 a.m.; $50).
Dinner guests are also invited to bid on specialized five-course tasting menus for parties of up to eight prepared by cheflebrity duos (chef table auctions are live now), as well as silent auction items combining complementary hospitality services. One bundle under consideration was a year’s worth of brunches at a TBD property controlled by award-winning chef Robert Wiedmaier, plus transportation via Uber.
An aide to Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) said voters are definitely tuned into the discussion. “Most constituents Sen. Cardin talks with throughout the state ask questions about the economy, jobs and often health care and student loan rates, as well as the ballot questions,” the aide told HOH, adding that “comments regarding Question 6 are mostly positive, particularly since President [Barack] Obama and the NAACP came out in support of marriage equality.”
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) is even more engaged, pledging $30,000 to the “Vote for 6” campaign (contingent on its raising $170,000) and urging constituents to join him in setting a new precedent.
“I’m working hard to ensure that Marylanders support Question 6 on Election Day. If they do, Maryland will become the first state to endorse marriage equality at the ballot box,” Van Hollen said. “I hope we inspire other states and the federal government to support marriage equality as well.”
Regardless of whether he wins the war in Maryland, Hagedorn already has his next legislative battle in mind: dismantling the polarizing Defense of Marriage Act.
“I’m prepared to do as many dinners as possible,” Hagedorn vowed.