Monday, March 01, 2004
Chef Rôtisseur George Bumbaris - Maître Hôtelier Christoph Schmidinger
Caviar! Truffles! and Chocolate!
The very essence of the Oscars was captured at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago. We were there the evening following the Academy Awards and part of the atmosphere spilled over. Everything you wanted to know about what happens behind the scenes at a Chaîne dinner was exposed for all to see. There was no margin for error, and the magnificent Dining Room – all pretty in pink – had been hooked up with four very large plasma screens, smartly awaiting the live feed video from the kitchen. Executive Chef - Chef Rôtisseur George Bumbaris as well as Dining Room Chef Sarah Stegner and Executive Pastry Chef En Ming Hsu beckoned us to their domain. General Manager Christoph Schmidinger decided this evening would be different.
A vast array of hors d’oeuvres was displayed at Caviar-themed stations and passed canapés wove their way in-between us. Three Champagnes were ours for the choosing and included a Henriot Brut Millésime 1995.
Once seated, Bailli Roger Tracy welcomed the members and guests and introduced the new General Manager, inviting him to propose the toast. Christoph Schmidinger at the same time, introduced the special wait staff for the evening – many of whom had been involved in many previous dinners for our Chapter. This created high expectations, displaying the magic tools of the culinary arts. The plasma screens came to life and we watched as Vice-Conseiller Culinaire Heinz “Crystal” Kern explained the plating procedure of the turbot that was on its way out to the diners. Watching the assembly and presentation of each dish on the plasma screen as it happened and then having it placed before us, combined fantasy with reality. Chevalier Bruce Foudree complemented the zany culinary explanations with a steady and succinct reflection on each wine, a brief history and things to look out for. The Austrian heritage and recommendations of Christoph Schmidinger allowed us to experience a 2002 Nigl Gruner Veltliner Kremser as well as a very successful 2002 Wohlmuth Sauvignon Blanc. A touch of humor reinforced Austrian pride as those bottles were displayed on the screen. The commentaries were harmonious in themselves, and the 1996 Jacques Prieur Chambertin Grand Cru and the 1986 Chateau Haut-Brion Premier Grand Cru offered us the privilege of unique pairings.
During the preparation of the Tian of lamb with its truffle sauce, F & B Director Gianluca Sparacino was introduced to us via the plasma screen. The calmness in the kitchen was palpable as we quietly watched the tender, perfectly cooked main course with its truffled sauce magnificently compiled before our eyes. This dinner was building, with each and every course containing black truffles - the delicate flavors epitomizing the inescapable harmony of each combination.
Bailli Roger Tracy then awarded Vice-Charge de Missions/Caviste “Mon” Roldan the Bronze Star of Excellence for his extensive contributions as an Officer of the Chicago Chaîne.
Following a truffled cheese plate we were suddenly asked to “take our belongings and get up!” Guided out and towards the Trianon Room we had the privilege of being introduced and received by all of the Chefs who were flanking the wood-paneled walls outside the Dining Room. Members were able to personally speak with each chef as they moved along the line.
But this was not all! Executive Pastry Chef En Ming Hsu had designed and prepared a complete “CHOCOLATE ROOM”, its enticing aroma circling out to meet us. There were myriad chocolate sensations – the sense of smell first of all, then the visual impact of black and white, abstract chocolate sculptures. Contemporary shapes, curving ovals, obelisques, orbs, giant Easter Egg shapes and four foot high glass cylinders filled with silver-wrapped Hershey kisses, formed the focal point. Brown and white chocolate fountains with warm chocolate cascading down and disappearing somewhere, sat atop a huge buffet! The final sensation of taste followed as we dipped items into these fountains and through the seamless curtains of chocolate - reminiscent of a potter’s wheel. Many different desserts were for our choosing ending this stunning evening.
Just as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts provides a forum for advancement, so the Ritz-Carlton’s “Oscar” evening demonstrated that culinary and technical co-operation is necessary to communicate its professional commitment to both its competent and talented staffs, as well as the tradition of the Chaîne. The Ritz team were more than deserving of the golden statuette.