KIMON GREGORY'S station wagon smells like new-mown hay. But he isn't transporting hay in his car this particular day. Instead, the back seat is filled with freshly picked corn.
The destination: the National Press Club, where he slips into the kitchen and whips up a special treat that has become a Saturday-morning tradition among some members.
Gregory, a CBS announcer-producer, is the only club member allowed in the kitchen to do personal cooking for a hardy little band of regulars who have been dubbed the "Saturday Bar-Bitues." For the past 12 years, ever since an NPC member complained that he couldn't find a restaurant that served "steamers" or soft-shell clams, the group has been enjoying Gregory's culinary talents.
"You want clams? I'll cook clams for you," Gregory said to the member, instructing him to show up at the club the following Saturday morning with a bucket of steamers.
On the appointed day, a small group gathered in the shabby but famous NPC Tap Room -- a much-loved grubby watering hole furnished with battered oak tables and faded Bruegel print reproductions-- which opened the day Prohibition ended in 1933. (The Tap Room closed recently to await the $60 million renovation of the National Press building.)
The clams were a hit and a star was born. Gregory now has both a 10-quart and 40-quart clam steamer that he brings to the club for these cooking sessions. And his clam broth is as famous as the bar martini. "I cheat," he confessed, explaining that he uses bottled clam broth plus vegetables in the court bouillon to steam the clams. This addition creates a double infusion of clam flavor in the broth.
In fact, the broth is so popular Gregory has to ration it. There are those who don't give a fig for the clams, but they fancy the aromatic liquid, adding a shot of vodka to a cupful to create a splendid and revitalizing Saturday morning cocktail.
The steamers served that first Saturday morning 12 years ago also inspired the desire for corn-on-the-cob, and soon the Tap Room was the only bar in town where members could be found shucking ears of corn in the front booth.
Once shucked, the corn is cooked in an extravagant broth of milk and butter by Gregory, who operates under unwritten rules that his presence doesn't interfere with the regular kitchen activity nor compete with the club menus.
Along the way, the journalist has initiated a number of corn shuckers in the club. ("There's one born every minute" is the inside joke.) He recalls watching one reporter, an experienced science writer, starting to shuck an ear of corn from the wrong end. "He had never before shucked an ear of corn," says Gregory.
To feed his press club friends, Gregory doesn't just boil up any old corn, but follows the harvest when it begins in South Carolina in June, checking with friends at the Eastern Market to pick up the freshest arrivals. By July, the local Silver Queen crop -- with "kernels like baby's teeth" -- ripens.
Then he is up before dawn on Saturdays heading for the nearby Stalcup farm off Kirby Road in McLean, Va.
"I call Mrs. Stalcup the night before and one of the Stalcup kids is waiting for me at 6 a.m." He follows them to the field and loads two bushels of corn, still sopping wet with the morning dew, into his station wagon.
His Saturday stint at CBS begins at 7 a.m. and then he heads for the press club around 11 a.m. with his load of corn, still on call in case of news emergencies.
With CBS for over 36 years, Gregory first arrived in Washington in 1964. Since then, he has served as coordinating producer for several radio and TV news and sports programs, including CBS Redskins and Colts football games. And on Sundays, he is the "voice-over" for "Face The Nation."
His pride in his Greek ancestry surfaces in much of his cooking. When he isn't whipping up something at the press club, he might be found barbecuing chickens for the Washington Canoe Club or organizing a chili cookoff as Chief Chili Head for the Chili Appreciation Society International.
Gregory also cooks for the Alferd E. Packer Society which found a home in the Tap Room after the General Services Administration removed a society plaque hung in the Department of Agriculture's cafeteria several years ago. It read: Alferd E. Packer Memorial Grill.
The Packer legend is a running gag for Coloradoans who celebrate the life and legal problems of Packer, the first and only person convicted and sentenced to hang for cannibalism in this country.
Packer, so they say, was convicted of dining off five of his fellow gold prospectors during a cold winter in the Rockies back in 1883. The story gets complicated because Packer escaped, was captured, re-tried and eventually served 18 years in prison where he became a legendary loner.
His case was championed by a reporter on The Denver Post, and eventually his sentence was commuted and he wound up in the newspaper business -- as a janitor for The Post. To this day, his legal case is studied by all University of Colorado law students, and the Packer cult has been embellished and nourished on campuses and in newsrooms.
Several Packer "Feast Days" are celebrated throughout the year at the press club Saturday lunches, and Coloradoans flock in, sometimes even a governor shows up to dine on a macabre but jolly menu.
The main course is usually steak tartare which Gregory forms into a humanoid with gingerbread men molds (he has collected several sizes). Gigantic beef bones decorate the table and dessert is usually lady fingers.
Gregory covers his expenses for the Saturday lunches with donations (usually a dollar) from the diners. Any surplus is divided among kitchen workers and waiters.
Besides corn and clams, Gregory has offered steamed lobsters and poached oysters in white wine on some occasions. At other times, he has provided interesting pates or cooked a whole salmon. To celebrate conservative Ralph deToledano's birthday, the group feasted on chicken wings which were proclaimed all right wings. At liberal Democrat Wesley McCune's birthday feast, the chicken wings were declared all left wings.
With the temporary closing of the Tap Room, the "Bar-Bitues" have packed up their salt shakers and moved down the hall to the East Lounge, re-born as a temporary bar and grill during construction.
Gregory has to make a longer run through the ballroom to get hot corn to his customers. But soon the group will have a modest ceremony to rededicate the Alferd E. Packer plaque in its new location. Life goes on. CAROL GREGORY'S STEAK TARTARE (6 to 8 appetizer servings) 1 pound lean ground chuck 1 large onion, finely chopped 1 tablespoon dijon-style mustard 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce 1 egg 1 tablespoon (or more) freshly ground pepper Capers and chopped onion for serving
Place all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and knead together until thoroughly mixed. Taste. Gregory believes you can't get too much pepper in this, and some cooks may want to add salt. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. Arrange on a platter, sprinkle with capers and serve with side dish of chopped onion. Use as a spread with crackers or a good dark bread. GREGORY'S CORN METHOD
Gregory uses a kettle large enough to cook a dozen ears of corn at one time. He combines one part water to one part whole milk and adds a stick of butter. When the liquid reaches a rolling boil, he adds the corn and allows the liquid to return to a boil (less than a minute). He then returns to the bar to sip his drink and time the corn for exactly 6 minutes. If the corn is large or mature, it may take 8 minutes. Hot corn is placed in a single layer in a pan, slathered with melted butter and rushed to the bar where the members are waiting, sometimes with a salt shaker in hand. Also available is a special herb and butter sauce and a bottle of hot pepper sauce. The sauce changes weekly as Gregory and press club cook Phil Wilder experiment constantly with variations. CORN BUTTER SAUCE (For 1 dozen ears) 1 cup butter 4 tablespoons green onion, chopped 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder 2 teaspoons horseradish 8 drops Louisiana hot sauce 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional) 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Melt butter. Add remaining ingredients and taste, adjusting seasonings.
Variations: Add any one of the following and taste: chopped fresh dill, parsley, Italian herb seasoning, dijon-style mustard or lemon juice.
(If Gregory has leftovers of this butter sauce, he uses it in his Sunday morning scrambled eggs.) TO CLEAN SOFT SHELL CLAMS
Gregory gives the clams 3 washings, which eliminates the need to scrub each clam. Picking up double handfuls of clams, he holds them in the sink under fast running water. These are placed in a large kettle in a mixture of 1 part milk to 4 parts water. Then the clams are refrigerated or kept cold with ice cubes for 4 or 5 hours. During this period the live clams imbibe and then reject the water/milk mixture, turning the liquid a dull gray color as they release sand. (Sometimes Gregory tosses in a handful of cornmeal but feels it isn't necessary when you use milk.) The clams are lifted carefully from the milk mixture so as not to disturb the sand in the bottom and given a final washing under running water. (Gregory likes to select each clam to avoid the broken ones.) TO STEAM SOFT SHELL CLAMS
Fill the top kettle of a 10-quart double clam steamer half full of washed clams. In the lower portion fill with a 1/2 inch of water, 4 or 5 8-ounce bottles of clam juice, 2 chopped medium onions, 4 or 5 stalks of celery and a heaping tablespoon of peppercorns. Place over heat and cook about 15 minutes. The clams are ready when the shells open and the top clams look chalky white and are dry. If there is any moisture on the top shells, they should be given a few more minutes. About half way through the cooking, quickly stir or shake the clams to permit even cooking, but keep the steam loss at a minimum.
For real clam lovers, 20 clams is a reasonable serving. Gregory provides a cup of clam broth to bathe each clam, straining the liquid first to remove any final traces of sand. Then diners dip the steamers in melted butter, and some add a dash of hot pepper sauce.
Gregory eats the whole clam. He removes the black sleeve from the long siphon "neck" of the clam and doesn't waste a morsel. An empty clam shell follows the morsel from butter to mouth to catch any drips. KIMON GREGORY'S GREEK LEG OF LAMB (6 to 8 servings) 1 leg of lamb, about 6 or 7 pounds 1 tablespoon each, salt, pepper and dried oregano 3 cloves garlic, sliced into 10 slivers 1 cup red wine
The night before cooking, remove all traces of fat from the lamb. Cut slits in the lamb about an inch deep with a sharp knife spacing them so that you have about 10 slits. Combine the salt, pepper and oregano and press spoonfuls of this mixture and a sliver of garlic in each slit. Wrap in foil and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Place lamb on a rack in a roasting pan, uncovered; cook for 20 minutes. Remove lamb from oven, leave oven door open and reduce heat to 350 degrees. Pour wine over the meat and return to the oven, cooking an additional 2 hours for rare, pink lamb. Be sure to baste occasionally. Let stand 15 minutes and remove garlic before carving and serving. GREEK RICE PILAF (12 servings)
Gregory serves this pilaf on a platter and tops it with barbecued chicken. 3 tablespoons olive oil 2 large green peppers, diced 2 medium onions, diced 4 stalks celery, diced 3 cups converted long grain rice 3 14-ounce cans chicken broth 2 4-ounce cans mushrooms or 8 ounces fresh, sauteed mushrooms
In a 5-quart dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and saute' green pepper, onion and celery until soft. Add remaining tablespoon of olive oil and rice to the vegetables. Stir rice until golden, about 2 or 3 minutes. Add chicken broth, cover and cook 20 minutes, stirring once. Add mushrooms, cook another 5 minutes until rice is fluffy.