A Peek into the Les Amis D’ Escoffier Society Southern California

By Tony Reverditto

Les Amis d’Escoffier Society of Southern California is one of the many chapters which is a secret society of sorts. They are a community that strives to preserve the roots of classic French cuisine. They are a global society that honors the sacredness of Georges Auguste Escoffier. He was garnered “The Chef of Kings and The King of Chefs.” and was born in 1846 and lived until 1935. His dedication as a French Chef, restaurateur and culinary writer has created a legacy and made him an international treasure.  Escoffier popularized and refined traditional French cooking methods, much based on that of Marie-Antoine Carême, one of the codifiers of French haute cuisine. In particular, he distinguished recipes for the five mother sauces: Béchamel, Velouté, Espagnole, Sauce Tomat and Hollandaise.  In 1936, at the Jantzen Suite at the Hotel Waldorf-Astoria, an organization was spawned, which would become the high authority and final arbiter in all matters epicurean.

Today this distinctive organization is alive and well, with chapters throughout the country mostly on the east coast, all with the aim to bring together members of the culinary profession and loyal friends who appreciate good food and good wines together. The Fairmont Newport Hotel and  Karl Kruger, the General Manager, hosted the most recent homage to Escoffier, by inviting the Les Amis d’ Escoffier Society of Southern California to this exclusive gala. Members consist of leading food and wine professionals gathered to partake in the ultimate dining experience. Each dish is analyzed from the preparation, texture, presentation, to the service and compatibility of the wine pairing. Executive Chef, Brian Doherty and his team created a brilliant menu and came through with flying colors. Each was visually stunning and every course outdid the next and the menu was presented in French, I will do minor translations of each dish below.

From left to right, Henry Schielein, Karl Kruger and Dan Ketelaars

The journey started with the “La Réception”. There was a Selection de caviars, accoutrements traditionnels, blinis, petits pains grilles, pommes croquantes,  displayed over an Ice Bar was a selection of the world’s finest caviars with traditional garnish, assorted blini’s, melba toast, crisp potato’s . Also, tray passed Hors d’oeuvres Froid, Cold Maccaron foie gras truffes, Black Truffle and Foie Gras Macaroons and Oeuf de canard avec sa crème, Meringue a la betterave et  fromage de chevre translated means Duck Egg and Honey Custard with Beet Meringue and Goats Cheese Snow.  Hors d’oeuvres Chauds consisted of Hot Beignets au brie et a l’airelle, Brie Bengiets with Wild Huckleberry Injections and finally the bons au saumon royal, romarin au caviar de miel which were Candied King Salmon Bellies with Rosemary Honey Caviar. The champagne was a HEIDSIECK MONOPOLE, BRUT BLUE, CHAMPAGNE, FRANCE NV which has a long history, classic profiles to accompany the appetizers.      

After the first phase of indulging, guests moved to the dining room where everyone gathered around the table in their respective spots. Each guest’s seat was identified with a personalized menu with that person’s name on the cover. The nine-course decadent journey aptly named “Le Dîner” was as good as it gets. The Sommelier, who chose to remain anonymous, nailed the pairings of wines and champagnes throughout the evening.  Because viewing a French menu without translations is unchartered territory for most of us, I feel compelled to urge you to take the time to read both the French and English descriptions listed below. Each course was quite exquisite and complex starting with an incredible Amuse Bouche, Chaud froid d’Huitre Kusshi et tartare de thon Amuse which translated is a Hot & Cold Crispy Tempura Kusshi Oyster and a Chilled Tuna Tartare masterfully served atop a salt block. This was paired with a SCHLUMBERGER, RIESING, ‘LES PRINCES ABBÉS, ALSACE, FR 2013, a dry Riesling with bright acidity and minerality which cut through the delicate and slightly sweet flavors of the seafood. This Riesling was also paired with Poele de Coquille St Jacques, poireaux braises, sauce beurre lardee a la truffe, in English was, a Seared Scallop, Crisp Potatoes, Braised Leeks, Truffle Bacon slathered in Butter Sauce which was heavenly.

The next course was Salade, Petites betteraves roties, ris de veau a la noix de pecan, fromage de chevre, vinaigrette a la noix which was a lovely Roasted Baby Beet Salad, Pressed Pecan Shortbread, Goat Cheese, (made from goats owned by the Fairmont), drizzled with Walnut Vinaigrette. The wine, a CHATEAU TIMBERLAY, BORDEAUX BLANC, FRANCE 2014, had a Sauvignon Blanc component to balance the acidity and Semillon component to balance the richness.

After that came, Volaille, a trio de volailles, hachis de canard croustillant, sauté de foie gras, oeuf de caille au plat, consommé de canard fume – a trio of Fowl, Crispy Duck Hash, Seared Foie Gras, Sunny up Quails Egg, in Smoked Duck Consommé served with a pour of HENRY FESSY, FLEURIE-CHATEAU LABOURON, CRU BEAUJOLAIS, FR 2013, a delicate wine with richness to compliment the foie gras, egg yolk and crispy duck hash, the fruitiness of the gamay was a nice counterpoint to the smokiness of the consommé.

The remarkable dishes just kept coming and next was the Mer, Homard poche au beurre, gnocchi truffé de celery, carpaccio de pecorino age was my favorite. Here’s why . . . it was a lucious butter Poached Lobster Tail with Black Truffle & Celeriac Gnocchi, Carpaccio of Aged Pecorino. This delicacy was served with MICHEL NEILLON, CHASSAGNE-MONTRACHET, BURGUNDY, FR 2013, a classic pairing to blend with the lobster’s richness and the saltiness of the pecorino which meshed together by the wine’s fruit.

An effervescent palate cleanser was the Intermezzo presented, Sorbet Pomme acidulée et bulles de citron, cidre epicé, translated tart Sour Apple Ice with Lemon Bubbles on an ice block accompanied with a Warm Apple Spiced Shooter.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, they brought out the entrée, Viande, Filet de boeuf aux echallotes et queue de boeuf braise, carre de pomme Yukon, jeunes carrottes organiques. Translated a Filet of Angus Beef, Shallot and Oxtail Braisage, Yukon Gold Potato Pave and Young Organic Carrots was prepared and presented with utter opulence. We enjoyed a CHATEAU BRANAIRE DUCRU, ST. JULIEN, BORDEAUX, FR 2012. Since the beef was the star of the show, the same could be said about the wine which was equally revered.

Probably the most unique course, Fromages, Poire Seckle au safran, Fromages chevre de la Ferme de la Famille Drake, miel maison, gelée au porto also known as Saffron Seckle Pear with Bleu Cheese, Rooftop Honey Veil and Port Jelly.  This was a flavor profile that though it may sound unlikely, turned out to mesh quite well together.

Dessert was the pièce de résistance, Soufflé noir et blanc et sa crème anglaise grand marnier. Translated, the dreamiest Black and White Soufflé with Grand Marnier Crème Anglaise ever, paired with a Caramel Sea Salt Pop. How wonderful it was to have NICOLAS FEUILLATTE, ROSÉ DEMI-SEC, CHAMPAGNE, FRANCE NV 750ML presented with dessert. It possessed a richness of fruit, honeyed sweetness with a hint of berries.

In retrospect, it was fascinating to dine with such an interesting group of accomplished men sharing thoughts about the evolution of cuisine. Henry Schielein is the Founder and President of the Southern California Chapter. He has been a champion to respect traditions and keep classic French cuisine alive and well. His concern was that today’s chefs tend to avoid the complexity of the preparation involved in this fading culinary art form. After Chef Doherty and his team presented this homage, he was thrilled with the result. I told Henry that his mission was paying off, all of those young aspiring chefs that assisted Chef Doherty, all gained a lesson in prepping and preparing Classic French cuisine which played a part in keeping the legacy alive.

Dan Ketelaars of Danko Foods is President of the Les Amis d’Escoffier Southern California Chapter and did a terrific job introducing and directing the unfoldment of the evening. It was interesting to be a guest at the Newport Beach Escoffier Society, which is comprised of local culinary stars, such as Frederic Castan, Jean-Pierre Dubray, Ali Golesorkhi and Glen Hale along with Hospitality Managers, Lee Morcus,  Heinz Hoffman, Francis Perrot and Karl Kruger.   The other half of the society are members at large with a passion for food and wine. John Wortmann, chairman of the board of governors for the Balboa Bay Club, attorney Mitchell Sussman, engineer Bryan Stirrat, dentist Phil Kress, attorney Ira Falk and financial investment counselor and former Costa Mesa Mayor, Peter Buffa were all in attendance. Kudos to the kitchen and service crew for the discipline and focus for a successful execution of such an intricate and challenging event.

After the memorable dinner, the group of men congregated to the outdoor space for cigars and brandy and reflected on the exemplary food and choreography of the evening, from the kitchen prep to the final presentation. Cigar boxes filled Mignardises, Assortiment de truffles maison et petits fours, an assortment of House-made Truffles and Petit Fours were one last treat for the sweet tooth. Guests left with a Petite jar de miel Maison a emmener, meaning, a take Away Jar of Fairmont Rooftop Hive Honey as a sweet note to wrap up this spectacular evening.

*All prospective members are referred through existing members or screened by the President, Dan Ketelaars. From there, they evaluate the new prospect through their membership committee for final approval. It is a private society and not open for general access to the public. This article was intended to honor and preserve these traditions and to provide a window into this facet of life.

*photo credit and thank you to Srini Rajan who captured the event*

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