Union League Club

Monday, March 21, 2005

Michael Garbin* - Executive Chef with Chef Kendal Duque



By Jane Tracy, Vice-Chargée de Presse

This year, the Union League Club of Chicago celebrates its Sesquentennial 125th year.  Commensurate with this it also enjoys being named by the Club Leaders Forum, the top city club in Chicago and ranked number two in the country.  The Chicago Chapter is certainly fortunate to have three professional members from this club within its ranks - Maître Hôtelier Jonathan McCabe, General Manager, (alias Director of Fun), Chef Rôtisseur Michael Garbin, Executive Chef, and Maître de Table Hôtelier Alan Lennon, Operations Director. 

An extraordinary evening started in the Main Lounge with “Bacon and Eggs” – smoked salmon caviar on an edible wheat crisp spoon followed by the sparkle of an André Robert Cuvée de Reserve Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru N.V.  Docents of the club were available to show some of the club’s fine and renowned art collection. At the end of the reception guests were led by a Scottish bagpiper to the manned elevators up to the Main Dining Room on the 6th Floor.  Heavy velvet curtains draped the entrance and when opened, revealed a stunning dining room whose tables were adorned with tall topiary arrangements as well as low, abundant vases of orchids.  This magnificent room of blue and gold was filled with a large table layout in the form of an “X”.

Jonathan McCabe gave a toast and welcomed Mr. Christopher Howell, Winemaker and General Manager of Cain Cellars whose wine – a Cain Five 1995 – would be served with the main course.  Creating conversation with the aim of raising ordinary-sounding things to the level of something very different, Chef Garbin certainly achieved his ambition.  Reading the menu alerted us that this was going to be a different sort of evening and the Chicken and Dumpling course revealed Chef’s direction.  Truffled spaetzel in a rich chicken broth with a “short rib” of chicken cut from the natural chicken thigh, indeed changed the tone from our usual perception of this traditional dish.  Humor and comedy were injected into the mix with a mime standing on a central podium acting out each course – this being a chef holding a rubber chicken and chef’s knife and possessing a cantankerous yet resigned expression on his face. 

Surf and Turf became an oven roasted sturgeon with a brunoise of vegetables in an oxtail ragout consommé.  A Meursault Dom. Darnat Clos Richemont 1er Cru Monopole 1999 and a Pinot Noir Witness Tree Willamette Valley 1997 caught us by surprise with their identical grapefruit finishes.  Rushing in with his surf board, the mime this time took on the look of a veteran wave rider hoping not to get wiped out.

The 125 Years of Tradition course provided the old and new version of the ULC traditional navy bean soup.  The “then” version was served in a demi-tasse cup and the “now” version in an elegant Riedel Bordeaux glass – the “pouring” inviting us to swirl, sniff and take a sip of this twice clarified and strained version taking this long-standing tradition to the next level. 

Fried Egg, Sunnyside Up has caused reverberations around this dining room before when Chicago hosted the 1997 Chapître and 350 members from around the world were beguiled into believing they were about to taste just that, and not the innocuous lemon and mango sorbet in its miniature iron skillet.  The mime this time – an irreverent dinner cook flipping a rubber egg.  And so it went on.  Steak and Potatoes became Wagyu tenderloin of beef with wonderful fingerling potatoes.  Chris Howell at this point gave a succinct explanation of the Cain Five 1995 which he had had shipped in directly from the winery – its deep red brick color and aromatic nose inspired talk of aristocracy.

“Spotted Cow” was a vivid expression for the Wisconsin Romano cheese studded with black peppercorns, accompanied by a dungaree-clad farmer on his milking stool providing enough mime for the wine – a satiny and sleek Châteauneuf du Pape Château La Nerthe 2000.  The inevitable Chicago gangster swaggered to his podium whilst hot and perfect Chicago cheesecake soufflés were simultaneously served to each diner.  Bailli Heinz Kern introduced Maître Hôtelier Jonathan McCabe who led the accolades for the very deserving chefs and service staffs.