Catina Smith or “Chef Cat,” as she’s affectionately known, is a woman of many talents. By day she is a line chef at Magdalena Restaurant [205 E. Biddle St., (410) 514-0303, theivybaltimore.com/magdalena] in the Ivy Hotel and by night she puts in work at Webster University, where she’s only two classes away from her master’s degree.
It’s only February and Chef Cat is already finalizing her events and endeavors for 2018. She’s launching her own apron line, is working on her own sorbet brand, and has partnered with two local non-profits— Black Girls Cook and Black Professional Men—to help create events and programming. She also has her own podcast “Taste Charm City” and is organizing several themed events throughout the year.
“I’ve had ideas for years,” she says. “I’m kind of learning as I go. I think I’m such a shy and introverted person but somehow I became the ‘culinary socialite.’ I go to all these places and talk to people because I feel that I’m not necessarily meant to be a cookie-cutter chef. I feel like I am supposed to be intermingling with people and bringing people together.”
In that vein, she is currently focused on her third installment of Taste Baltimore. This was one of her first events and it remains one of her favorites. (Arli Lima)
Baltimore Beat: What is Taste Baltimore?
Catina Smith: So Taste Baltimore in a nutshell is kind of a food expo or mini emporium. I like to highlight local businesses and local chefs. I like to invite vendors that are trying to make their mark and reach new people to grow their clientele.
It’s funny because a lot of things I do, people think they’re black-only events but this is not black-only. Just like I hold a monthly chef meet-up, it’s not only for black chefs, it’s for all chefs to start gaining that camaraderie and sense of community—we’re here to help each other. I’m on my third one now; it’s growing and it is highlighting those businesses that kind of only had a small reach . . . so I was grateful that I was able to do that for those businesses. I’m hosting this installment on Saturday, Feb. 24 at The Motor House.
BB: What type of vendors can we expect?
CS: We will have restaurants, private chefs, and caterers. We also have business owners that make juice, desserts, sauces, and spices. This year it’s going to be a wide variety of vendors. You’ll also be able to purchase their products.
BB: How will Taste Baltimore 3 surpass the other two events?
CS: Well, the first one was packed! I had it in a small space and I didn’t know what to expect, so when I saw it was packed with people my heart was so full. If you see some of the pictures, you’ll see people smiling and laughing and really enjoying themselves, everyone had a great time. The second one, we had a live band and it was really interactive. We had (local chef and personality) Chef Egg there and he did a live cooking demo and he’s doing another demo this time around. This year we also have a DJ, DJ 5 Starr is a sponsor and he’s donating his time and talent to us. We’re doing the black box challenge, it’s kind of like “Chopped” where I pop up on a few chefs with a black box and they have to come up with some creative ideas for the wacky things I put in the boxes. They will be judged on taste, creativity, plating, and the winner gets a trophy. Also, the first 25 people that arrive get an amazing swag bag.
BB: How many vendors will you have at Taste Baltimore 3?
CS: This time we have 15 vendors and it’s pretty cool too because so many people were just reaching out to me asking to be a part of it. My first event, I was begging people “please be a part of my event” and now people are telling me they want to be a part of it, so many I have to turn people away. I’m even getting hits from bigger restaurants; this year I’m having The Elephant participate as my big restaurant and I was so shocked that they reached out to me, so that’s exciting. Next year I’m putting out a call for vendors early so I can get the vendors first and then I’ll pick the venue.
BB: You seem to have this event all covered—I can’t imagine what you’ll do to top this.
CS: Well, I’ve also been working on a Taste Baltimore kids’ edition. People are reaching out to me about events for kids and I notice a lot of kid businesses are emerging so I wanted to do something to highlight them. I found a kid that does his own chicken hand pies, my friend she does lemonade, I have a couple of cupcake kids, I know one girl her business is called “What The Dill” and she makes her own pickles. My daughter Micah, she has her own project “Unicorn Magic,” it’s her little rainbow sparkle inspired treats. She’s making macaroons, rice krispies treats, bath bombs and soaps. I’m also developing something called “Chef Cat’s Kid Restaurant Week” and we’re going to develop a small curriculum and teach kids how to do the culinary basics. They will cook and we will sell their food; that will be more of a fundraiser. I’m creating my own scholarship where I’m going to try and give seed money to high school seniors going to culinary school in Baltimore City.
Taste Baltimore 3 will be held Feb. 24 from noon to 4 p.m. at The Motor House (120 W. North Avenue,  637-8300). Tickets are $20 and can be purchased here.
Follow Chef Cat on Instagram @naturallychefcat and @culinary_socialite.