Who knew that reviewing Baltimore's restaurants over the past year and a half would happen during a challenging time in my life—and that our local chefs would help me get through it without even realizing it?
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 and went through several months of chemotherapy—all the while, reviewing restaurants. I was worried. Would I be nauseous? Would I lose my appetite? Would I be fatigued? My oncologist was sympathetic but emphasized the importance of treatment. And I also needed my job. Thankfully, my medical issues happened as more and more restaurants were embracing the farm-to-fork revolution and putting the purest, freshest foods available on their tables.
The restaurant food trends of today turned out to be just what the doctor ordered—from the emphasis on local foods, to the profusion of small plates, to the growing surge of New American preparations that update comfort-food classics with intriguing, flavorful twists.
In addition, I was fortunate. I rebounded quickly after each chemo treatment and didn't lose my sense of taste. Heck, I didn't even lose weight. In fact, my doctor scolded me for gaining a few pounds.
My only dietary restriction was that I couldn't eat raw foods since they could potentially carry bad things into my body while my immune system was weak. That wasn't a big deal since I don't usually order salads when I do reviews, but I did miss juicy fat oysters on the half shell and sushi. (Confession: I cheated one time and ate fresh guacamole at a Mexican restaurant. It was delicious, though I probably shouldn't have risked the consequences.)
But there were many other foods I could eat with gusto. I savored wonderful homemade soups, chockful of cooked, local veggies; delectable meats from Roseda Farm and Springfield Farm (remember when chicken used to be boring to order?); fish from nearby waters; and farm-raised shrimp (thank you, Marvesta).
Of course, another potential drawback to reviewing restaurants was my appearance.
A bald-headed woman wolfing down large amounts of food is sure to attract attention.
But that's what wigs are for. Finally, I got to put on a disguise! People always ask me if I wear them anyway.
The proliferation of local tapas places was a savior, too. If there was ever a time for small bites, this was it. And because we have so many good restaurants of that genre in town, I was able to sample a lot of terrifically prepared food without overdoing it.
The treatments and surgeries are over now, and I'm a hopeful breast-cancer survivor.
I don't take it lightly. I am so grateful that I was able to work and eat—and especially that I have such a resilient stomach!
Which brings me back to the chefs. They all became my unwitting personal cooks as I wandered through town, picking and choosing from a variety of carefully prepared, thoughtful dishes that I wouldn't have felt like making at home. I could satisfy a craving for any kind of meat, vegetables, or seafood, and know that the kitchen would make the dish nourishing and appealing.
And that's what our "Best Restaurants" issue is really all about—letting you know how many great places and chefs we have in our midst. In sickness and in health.