By Russ Kramer, Corporate Chef at Buedel
The annual Escoffier Society Diner d’Hiver was held at the Langham Chicago last Sunday. To say it was an exquisite event would be a gross understatement.
It is a reverent experience where an intimate group of 100 chefs, culinarians and food service professionals come together to honor the “Father of Modern Cuisine”, Auguste Escoffier.
A Little History
Escoffier’s name is synonymous to fine cuisine on many different levels. He was the first “great chef” who spent his entire career in the public sector in an era where working for royals and private clubs reigned supreme. He is credited with developing the “kitchen brigade” system to instill kitchen organization and decorum, establishing sanitation standards, and pioneering the concepts of food preservation.
Simplicity and respect for food preparation was extremely important to Escoffier. He believed culinary professionals, at any level, should pursue a reverence for improving their skills and fervor for ongoing education.
Escoffier updated French cooking methods, wrote numerous articles and books on cookery and blazed an industry trail for the service of cooking and serving the public.
At every annual dinner, there are commemorative fine china plates, long tables and elegant place settings with a bouquet of fresh wine glasses to accommodate the ten course meal. There is a “grand style” ambiance to the evening.
This is a society representation; a members-only function that honors the art of culinary. If you want to bring a guest, you must submit their name for approval. The goal of the Society is to preserve a culinary experience for professionals only – this is not something you bring your Cousin Vinny to.
Guests are also asked to put their mobiles away, a request, not adhered to by and large. (Our techno driven society is evidently bigger than Escoffier’s.) Part of the pageantry of this event is being in the moment, at the moment. Sharing at the instance is great, but it also takes away from the instance.
(Pictured above: “Contre-filet Rôti, Ris de Veau Croustillant, Poule des Bois, Sauce Albuféra”** Translation: Roasted Strip Loin, Crispy Sweetbreads, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms and Sauce Albuféra. ** In the style of Escoffier. Creekstone Farms’ Prime All Natural Premium Black Angus Beef Striploins were supplied by Buedel.)
The Society is known for its preservation of protocol and tradition. One such protocol is wearing your napkin at the neck. It is a custom first attributed to 1700’s France, for the protection of ruffled shirts worn by “fashionable men” at the time. Everyone at the Society dinner wears their napkins like this.
(Napkin Models back to front: JW Marriott’s Execute Chef, Michael Reich and Sous Chefs, Russell Shearer and Tony Biasetti.)
At the center seat of the head table, there is a red velvet cushioned and gold framed throne of sorts. In solemn tradition, the chair remains empty throughout the dinner in honor of Escoffier. Food and drink are served “as if” he was there, and then removed accordingly.
During the meal, there is silence when courses are being served. All talking stops, while a new course is being served to take in the complete experience; to focus on the sight and smell of what’s being plated.
Dinner guests receive an education throughout the meal; there is an explanation of the menu before each course. This could include a history of the main components of what’s being served, when it first came into vogue, how it was originally prepared, and so forth. World renowned Chef Michel Bouit gave the course lessons at Sunday’s event.
After the meal, the Host Chef sits down in the red velvet chair at the head of the table. This is done to pay homage to the chef and the facility for performing the dinner. Guests greet the Chef and offer comments on the dinner in general. New members to the Society may also be revealed at this time.
The Langham’s Executive Chef, Anthony Zamora, and his staff did a spectacular job. It is no small feat, and a big honor to be chosen as Host Chef for an Escoffier dinner. Once the committee scouts properties and chefs for the event, interviews are conducted, menus are submitted for review and tastings ensue before a final decision is made. The Society must believe you’re “talented enough” to do this type of event.
(Pictured L to R above: The Langham Chicago Chefs: Executive Chef, Anthony Zamora, Executive Sous Chef, Damion Henry and Banquet Chef, Augustin Oliva.)
The Final Course
The annual Escoffier Society dinner is immersed in pure respect and grandeur of what culinary could and should be. It celebrates the talent of the modern culinary in a classic setting. It is a social event, where culinary camaraderie is the focus, and no business is to be done.
There is talk of scheduling a European Escoffier trip in 2015. Gala dinners would be held in London and then in Paris at the Ritz, where Escoffier worked with Hotelier, Cesar Ritz at the pinnacle of his career. This would be the journey of a lifetime for any culinary professional fortunate enough to attend.