Monday, April 15, 2002
Chefs George Bumbaris* and S. Stegner
Grace, Elegance & CHEESE, Please - at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago
The twenty-five year old Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, Chicago, timelessly stands as a paragon of quintessential sophistication. There was something about the cuisine of Chef Rôtisseur George Bumbaris and Dining Room Chef Sarah Stegner that inspired consumption from the top to the bottom of the tenderly crafted spring menu for the Chicago Chapter. As one of America’s top cooking talents, Sarah Stegner has pulled in many coveted awards for the Ritz-Carlton, and George Bumbaris as the hotel’s accomplished Executive Chef continues to move through the culinary world in an adept and comfortable manner. Mr. Nicholas Mutton, Senior Vice President Operations N. America and Maître de Table Hôtelier, General Manager Tom Kelly welcomed us once again. Steven Lande, Sommelier and Dining Room Manager - former member of the “Trotter Clan” - spearheaded the organization of the evening. Dame Maître de Table Marlene Leone and Maître Hôtelier/Commandeur Pedro Dos Santos were also in attendance, completing the full contingent of our Ritz-Carlton members.
The reception took place on the Terrace where miniature-sized hors d’oeuvres were served alongside a wonderful Drappier Grande Sendrée 1989.
Once seated, Chevalier/Officier Nelson Cornelius proposed the toast and a culinary romance began. Finely diced cucumber, avocado, mango, dill and cilantro gently shored up two elliptically-shaped Dungeness crab legs. The Sancerre Domaine Vacheron 2000 served as a light entry wine with a subtle earth character. Whetting the appetite further, a slightly spicy spring vegetable terrine contrasted with a bright green asparagus soup and a delectable seared scallop. The acidity of the Chassagne-Montrachet Bernard Morey, Morgeot Premier Cru 1994 held up to the spice and also cut well through the smoothness of the soup. A morel mushroom sauce had been devised to escort the next course of firm, fresh wild striped bass. Picked at the peak of ripeness, juices from the sensual pea shoot tendrils had been reduced and incorporated into the whole.
Tender poussin in its biscuit-colored sauce with truffle butter propelled us forward toward the Farmstead Ranch buffalo tenderloin. Braised Oxtail added depth and artistic display to the plate and inspired images of great eating scenes. The 1978 Château Haut-Brion aimed straight for the middle-palate where the wine interacted with the food translating into a soft roasted/asphalt flavor. This, with the tobacco-cigar box bouquet, gave us a classic experience from one of the oldest Estates in Bordeaux.
A spectacular -banquet- comprised the cheese course. Sixty-one cheeses in unblemished condition were displayed. The selection, quality and affinage equaled perfection. These cheeses included cow, goat and sheep’s milks, their shapes, colors, and textures wove together to resemble the city skyline - tall cylindrical shapes, broad rectangular slabs, low, circular delicate forms, ashed triangular/pyramids - their provenances covering artisan and A.O.C. producers from the U.S., France, Spain, U.K. and Corsica. Sofia Solomon, the cheese purveyor, owner and President of Tekla Inc, was present. It was a vibrant opportunity for animated discussion with her and to ask many questions surrounding her choices.
Celebrity pastry chef and multi award winning Ms. En-Ming Hse’s spun sugar butterfly perched exquisitely upon an outstanding dessert of a caramel Napoleon. This closed our extraordinary dinner. En-Ming was recently selected as Captain of the U.S. Pastry Team at the 2001 Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie in Lyon, France, and named “One Of The Top 10 Pastry Chefs In America In 1998” by Chocolatier and Pastry Art & Design Magazines. In February 1997, she was named “1997 Pastry Chef Of The Year In America” at the Eighth Annual Patisfrance Pastry Competition held in New York City. Her legendary dessert ‘Symphonies’ are now part of the international culinary landscape.
The vivid ballad fashioned by the Ritz-Carlton team was recognized by Tom Kelly and sanctioned by us all. As we left, visions of eating danced in our heads validating this legendary Society and its freedom to express all things allied with the art of gastronomic ingenuity.