In a time when white, starched dining table linens have largely been replaced by plastic place mats, the Les Amis d Escoffier Society of Southern California gathered earlier this month at the Island Hotel, Newport Beach, to remind the world that grand dining style still survives in rarified quarters.
The March 8 event was billed as Le Dinner d' Printemps, otherwise simply known as Spring Dinner. Founded by hotelier and gastronome Henry Schielein and presided over by Escoffier Society President Dieter Hissin, general manager of the Irvine Co.'s prestigious Island Hotel, the organization is dedicated to preserving the storied history of the refined continental table as established by 19th century French chef extraordinaire Auguste Escoffier, known as "The chef of kings and the king of chefs."
Former Escoffier pupils, local culinary experts and dedicated gastronomes started the American version of the society in New York City in 1936 at the famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The purpose then, as now, was to create a nonprofit to offer scholarships to students of the culinary arts, recognize educators in the culinary arts and, finally, to offer a chance for like-minded gentlemen to come together for an exceptional multi-course, over-the-top dining experience.
Did I mention that this society is for men only?
Dinner attire is black tie (and ribbons). Guests are instructed that controversial conversation as well as business negotiations are strictly forbidden.
So with no talk of politics, religion or finance, conversation centers on the food, the wine, travel, family and long-time friendships. The Newport Beach Escoffier Society is limited to 50 members, half of them local culinary stars including Frederic Castan, Jean-Pierre Dubray, Heinz Hoffman, Ali Golesorkhi, Glen Hale, Karl Drueger, Lee Morcus, Johnny So and Francis Perrot.
The other half of the society are members at large with a passion for food and wine. Among the fraternity are 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, banker Lynn Caswell, and financial investment counselor and former Costa Mesa Mayor Peter Buffa.
On May 8, the powerful 50 sat down at one long banquet table in a private dining room at the Island following a Schramsberg champagne reception at sunset. Chef de Cuisine David Man, working with staff including Marc Johnson, Andy de la Cruz, William Santos, Joe Orichiella and sommelier Miguel Rodriquez-Vidal, served a spectacular eight-course dinner paired with outstanding wines. Among the more gourmet course selections were poitrine de pigeon and filet de veau, champignons savages.
Spotted at the table were artist Michael Bryan, Dan Ketelaars, Walter Lachman, Marty Rakawitz, Tim Salyer, Chris Szechenyi from the Capital Grill and Dr. Michael Arguilla.
The second annual KidWorks Classic Golf Tournament raised $111,000 in support of the educational programs offered by KidWorks Santa Ana to children living in urban Orange County neighborhoods, according to a news release.
The Aliso Viejo Country Club hosted the day on the greens with presenting sponsor Citadel Outlets and its chief executive, Steve Craig, leading a long list of Orange County business leaders who lent a hand. Among the dedicated were CBRE's Sharon Kline and Preston Fetrow, Michael Williams from First American Title Co., Mid West Bank's Joe McGhie, and Jessica Liu from Payday Workforce Solutions.
One of the more unusual aspects of the 18-hole shotgun-style golf event was the infusion of gourmet food and specialty beverage stations at designated holes along the course. Organizers called it A Taste of Downtown Santa Ana, since popular bistros including Crave, Little Sparrow Café, Diego's, Chapter One, Tabu Burgers and C4Deli participated.
Tournament champs were a foursome, Joseph Perkins, Sean Murphy, Myles Valentine and Kevin Shaw, who joined the rest of the golfers for a "19th Hole" cocktail and dinner reception in the clubhouse at dusk. Major donor golfers enjoying dinner included Steven Perry, Stan Frome, Scott Homar, Dave Mossman, Russ Parker and Greg Cooley.
KidWorks founder and Chief Executive Ava Steaffens addressed the dinner crowd, thanking them for their generous support. She introduced the golfers to one of the KidWorks students, Liliana Ledezma, who is a student at Mater Dei thanks to KidWorks' help.
To learn more about KidWorks, go to http://www.kidworksonline.org.
THE CROWD runs Fridays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.