Monday, January 15, 2001
Executive Chef Sandro Gamba
Stars of Excellence All Around
Owing to the profusion of skills or abilities now required within the hierarchy of the culinary world, the Chicago Chapter’s first event of 2001 started in a flurry of high expectation. The seductive notion of an event at the recently opened Park Hyatt Hotel on Water Tower Square carried with it the accompanying mystery commensurate with territory unknown. Executive Chef Sandro Gamba, from Lorraine in France came directly from Lespinasse in Washington D.C. and was catapulted to prominence upon arrival in the Midwest during the latter part of 2000. Gamba, honored with a nomination as the 1999 James Beard Rising Star award, is also the recipient of several high awards including the World’s Best Chefs for his work at Lespinasse. His training has taken place under such illustrious chefs as Alain Ducasse during his time at Le Louis XV and with Roger Vergé at Le Moulin de Mougins.
The Park Hyatt left nothing to chance. The evening had been thoroughly thought through by Executive Assistant Manager, Food and Beverage, Emmanuel Nony, previously from the Park Hyatt in Tokyo, under the guidance of General Manager Rick Segal. Fastidious attention had been paid to detail. Elaborate hors d’oeuvres accompanied a medium-bodied Duval Leroy Cuvée 2000 Brut that included pumpkin soup served in demitasse, tuna tartar served upon oriental soup spoons and a fabulous scallop and sea urchin stew that used all taste buds in the mouth. Each amuse was served like a different course of a meal.
Gentle gongs enticed us into the highly contemporary dining room. Elegant centerpieces upon black linens, accentuated beautiful table settings combining Japanese flowers, brightly colored peas in a glass vase, bamboo wood sticks and candles. Chevalier Jim Kinney made the first toast of the New Year and dinner then took center stage. And what a dinner it was. A uniquely creative presentation of the first dish upon stark white rectangular Bernardeau porcelain set the tone of utmost refinement. Shifts of interest and taste characteristically produce innovation and Chef Gamba certainly held our attention with this triangular Napoleon made up of salmon, crab, and tuna - thinly sliced Jicama its cap. Osetra Caviar acted as a moat, the Jicama enhancing its clean, nutty flavor. Bailli Roger Tracy took the opportunity to award Vice-Chargé de Missions/Caviste Charles Lockhart with the Bronze Star of Excellence for having undertaken the Bordeaux Grand Cru Wine Program with such gusto during the Millennium year. His innate talent and hard work carried out for the benefit of the Chicago Chapter has been significant and never underestimated.
As the recognition ended, the fish course was brought in. A different perspective presented this fragile, wild striped bass. A sweetish, finely shredded onion jam formed the base of this dish. Miniature cubes of prosciutto were tossed in the onion confiture and a white bean velouté - frothy and mild - was a haven for three whole chestnuts, and slices of black truffle - their dark colors contrasting dramatically against the dish’s virginal appearance. An easy drinking Olivier Leflaive 1989 Puligny Montrachet “Les Champs Gains” blended well. As though all this good news were not enough, this highly courageous chef sent out for us a dish demonstrating not only how we as consumers have changed, but how 21st Century chefs have followed the increasing sophistication of intercultural influence upon culinary artistry. The Carnaroli Risotto was an incredible course and one that will remain firmly embedded in the collective memory of those who were there that night. It was served in a deep, white bowl. The creamy rice presentation had been embellished with truffle oil and black trumpet mushrooms had been lain on top. Shaved, dried, crispy slices of San Daniele prosciutto seemingly garnished the rice and when eaten along with the paper-thin slice of Parmesan produced a powerful explosion of flavors. This was a huge dish and left us giddy. The Burgess 1995 Napa Triere Vineyard Reserve Chardonnay was a mighty marriage.
The Jacques Prieur 1996 Corton Bressandes Grand Cru proved substantial and nicely complemented the tender New Zealand Venison. Fans of celery root gave the dish a clean and crisp appearance. A 1997 Warrabilla Brimin Cabernet Shiraz from the Victoria area of Australia behaved generously with the faultless Brie which had been adorned with even more black truffles. As for the bread - a napkin cleverly folded into an artichoke held a single slice of it. Following the dessert the chef received deserved praise, staff were introduced and Chef Gamba answered questions. He was presented with a wine cradle and a special bottle as a token of our appreciation. His charm and engaging humility was captivating and he publicly thanked his team for their contribution to the success of our evening.
Doors then opened and we were ushered out into a living room where we found a Mignardises buffet decorated with an ornate miniature Japanese tableau made from pulled and blown sugar. This display had been entirely created as our dinner had been unfolding. The typical shiny satin texture was present on bullrushes, plants and highly abstract shapes and arrangements. Flanking the decorations were trays of exquisite chocolates. An Asian accent had permeated the entire evening.
Cigars were smoked, coffee and after dinner drinks were available, and members lingered a long time afterwards talking with those they had not had a chance to sit with. The evening had been an harmonious one and confirmed the raison d’être of La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs.