I recently met up with Martine Richards, my friend and food and craft event planning soulmate, to talk about her pioneering event, the Baltimore Deviled Egg Pageant, now going on its sixth consecutive year. (Get her sushi egg recipe here!) We met up at WC Harlan’s in the Baltimore neighborhood of Remington, a corner bar specializing in craft cocktails. This is our place. Our first formal meeting in 2015 was here, to plan the inaugural Wreather Madness. I recall having something like a Pisco sour infused with yerba mate and garnished with dried chamomile flowers. I ordered it because it was the special and it sounded fancy, which it was, though I didn’t know what yerba mate was. As a person who doesn’t drink more than one caffeinated beverage per day, I probably should have inquired before ordering. Halfway through our meeting, I was sweating. Not just sweating. I possessed an awareness of each individual sweat gland under every square inch of my skin, pumping in unison as if they were all following the lead of Richard Simmons and track no. 7 Great Balls of Fire had just came on.
Perhaps Martine was enchanted by my manic presentation of reasons why she should join me in planning a new event together or perhaps she said yes despite my fast talking and wet brow. In any case, two years later we still meet up at WC Harlan’s to plan events, and this time we’ve met because Martine has agreed to be interviewed for this blog.
Martine orders a cocktail. (The yerba mate cocktail is still on the menu but I know better). I opt for a draught beer of which there are two choices: light or dark. I appreciate that they’ve relieved me of the mental task of choosing from a long list of beers that I likely know little about. (Though if there had been a list, Martine could have helped me since she brews beer for fun). I did choose a syrup to add-in ‘avec’ my dark beer. Flavor options included framboise and grappo. Though I don’t speak French, ordering “a dark beer avec pêche" felt more dignified than ordering a fruit simulacrum in English or ordering by color like a child at a sno-ball stand.
While waiting for our drinks Martine tells me about her recent acquisition of an angel food cake pan so she could make a cake for her friend’s birthday, because of course she makes baked goods for her friends on their birthdays. And if you think an angel food cake pan is the same as a Bundt pan, you’d be wrong because it shouldn’t have a non-stick coating since angel food is basically a soufflé with a small amount of flour, and a non-stick surface would prevent the egg whites from “climbing” the walls of the pan to reach optimal fluffiness . . . I now know.
WC Harlan’s bills itself as a speakeasy. The only evidence of this is that the room is so dimly lit (think: two Edison bulbs dangling from the ceiling and a stained glass lamp from your grandma’s house) that I can see the shadows of Martine’s eyeglass rims arching across her forehead as our table candle overflows with molten wax.
Mickey: Why deviled eggs?
Martine: First of all, I fucking love deviled eggs. They are literally the best food. And I feel like, every time you go to a family party, there’s always the plate of deviled eggs that somebody made. And maybe, if they had the perfect time making them, there are 24 halves, but probably less, because they tested a few and some broke. But even then, that’s not that many. I come from a big family and you might get one deviled egg but you can’t just shovel them down like you want to.
As far as the Deviled Egg Pageant, I totally jacked it. There was this website called the Hairpin; a smart, funny, feminist website with a really great comments section, which usually doesn’t happen on the Internet. One of the ongoing gags by a staff writer for the site was a regular news feature about deviled eggs. One of those “news reports” was about a deviled egg pageant in South Carolina, and I was like, that’s a great idea, I’m going to do it.
Mickey: Was their pageant as tongue-in-cheek as yours or more serious, not to imply that yours isn’t dead serious?
Martine: I think it was pretty tongue-in-cheek, though I couldn’t get an idea of the scope of it but it was a garden party sort of thing, like wear your garden party Southern finest and make deviled eggs. Something that I did try to institute at first, but Baltimore can be weird about bringing drinks to share, was if you don’t make an egg, bring a cocktail to share or even make an accompanying cocktail for your deviled egg. But yeah, I tried to make that happen and people were mostly like I brought a six-pack and I’m going to drink it. So it seemed tongue-in-cheek but in more of a Southern-southern way, not a Baltimore way. Anyhow, I totally stole the idea and ran with it.
Mickey: This is now your 6th year hosting the Baltimore Deviled Egg Pageant. What have been some of your favorite entries?
Martine: There’s one that sticks out in my memory from early on when I realized my friends were taking this very seriously, and they’re a competitive group - not in a I’m gonna fuck someone over to get a job-way, but in a way where they want to be able to say I made the best deviled egg, motherfucker! My friend Jenny, months in advance, found a cube-shaped mold in a thrift store with the intent of making square eggs for the competition. The thing about these molds is that you have to hard-boil the egg and then put it in the mold while the egg is still hot. So she basically had to make a dozen hard-boiled eggs, one at a time, peel them while they were hot and then put them in the mold until it cooled. And it wasn’t just that they were square, she also marinated them in soy sauce and put all of these seasonings in the filling. It tasted like eating Chinese takeout but in deviled egg form. It was amazing. I couldn’t believe how much time she spent on it.
Another one that stands out for me was from last year’s competition. Laura made deviled scotch eggs, and obviously I didn’t try them because I don’t eat meat, but I heard they were very good. But what impressed me most about them was this challenge that I have with a lot of food competitions; it’s one thing to make something that is delicious and impressive and beautiful and bring it from your kitchen to your dining room, while it is an entirely different feat of logistics to make something that is a deep-fried, sausage and bread crumb-covered egg and transport it elsewhere and keep it hot for the duration of the event. She had brought these hot stones that she had pre-heated in the oven and transported in a heatproof container, and laid them down on the picnic table, covered them in fabric and put the dish of scotch eggs on top to keep them hot. I was really impressed by the thought and logistics that went into that.
That attention to logistics is something I didn’t see people do as much before but I see it more and more, like bringing the filling in a piping bag to fill onsite so it looks as good as possible and so you don’t cover the backseat of your car with deviled eggs, which would be real sad.
Mickey: Do you ever worry that the longer this competition goes on, that people will run out of ideas or are you constantly surprised by what people come up with?
Martine: For folks who go a little more basic, like cheddar bacon, versions of that have happened multiple times for sure, but that’s to be expected. But for people who go out there with their flavor combinations and ideas, I don’t think there’s been a single repeat. The first year of the competition, I made a chipotle cheddar deviled egg and thought whoa this is so wacky! And now I laugh to think of that. Last year someone made an egg with goat cheese and butternut squash with fried sage on top which is something I would have never thought of mainly because I associate deviled eggs with summertime food or Easter, but they really are the perfect canvas to do anything with.
I feel like I know a lot of competitive, creative people who are always trying to outdo themselves. But even something like a bacon cheddar egg, which won in the 4th year, if you know your stuff and you make it perfectly, it doesn’t matter if something isn’t novel, it can still win. But aside from that, I’m not concerned about people bringing novelty to the table. Creativity is not a finite resource.
Mickey: In your opinion, must there be hard-boiled egg yolk in the filling to qualify as a deviled egg?
Martine: [pause and sigh] Here’s why I hesitate. I have a friend who hates deviled eggs for some reason. I don’t understand it. So when she can she has made a filled potato skins version that looks like an egg. Every year there are a few people who make a dessert that look like deviled eggs. For example, a friend made apricot halves filled with mascarpone. So, are those things deviled eggs? No. But they are welcome at the deviled egg pageant. But I think if you are calling it a deviled egg, maybe you don’t have to use all of it, but I think there has to be some egg yolk in the mixture.
Mickey: There are a lot of people who get really excited about the Baltimore Deviled Egg Pageant and like-minded competitions and look forward to it all year. What do you think it is about these people that they have in common?
Martine: Generally speaking I surround myself with people who are social justice-oriented and care about not being shitty people. I grew up just outside of D.C. and for awhile I worked in D.C. before I got a job in Baltimore. I know people in Baltimore who care about their careers, but it doesn’t seem as cut-throat as it can be in D.C. or perhaps as it may be in other social groups here. I think these competitions channel some of that energy into something that is fun and creative and celebratory and community-minded, rather than I just beat out that asshole for promotion-minded. Yes, it feels so good to win but it’s also the lowest-stakes thing ever. People feel passionate about making something delicious but also about something that makes others happy.
Mickey: If I were to open your refrigerator at home right now, what would I find?
Martine: 4000 half-used jars of different types of pickles. Way too many! I’m pretty sure that Andrew regularly goes in there and throws out a jar with like two pickled green beans left in it thinking I’ll never notice. Which, he’s right, but I was saving that for when I needed it. We also have Andrew’s tiny fridge from college in the basement which has become my project fridge, in as much as it can be, because it’s not big enough. I keep telling Andrew, ya know, this mini-fridge from 2004 is probably using as much power as one of the full-size energy efficient fridges of today and we should probably just get a new fridge. He does not agree with me.
One time I was making this tofu misozuke, which is a cured, seasoned spreadable tofu that takes two months to prepare and it’s so good. But I’ve only made it once because it has to be made in a single layer and it was taking up so much fridge real estate. If I had another fridge, I could make that more often!
Mickey: Last time I was at your house for a Christmas party there was nine month-old egg nog in the fridge but it was supposed to be aged that long.
Martine: That’s still in there. But it’s totally fine. I did a lot of research because it kinda freaked me out but it’s the same recipe that a bunch of microbiologists at UC Davis make every year. It’s basically about using enough sugar to have preservative properties. It contains a dozen egg yolks, a whole pound of sugar, brandy, cognac, a few others. You can mix and match liquors a little bit as long as the proof is correct. Milk, cream, which is, ya know a little gross, but yeah that’s one of the things in my project fridge right now that would be so much more at home in a full-sized fridge.