A Holiday Gala Sparkles in the Crystal Room of the Willard HotelDecember 7, 2016
By Michael McHenry, Officier, Bailliage of Greater Washington, D.C.
On December 07, 2016, ninety-two members and guests of the Washington, D.C., Bailliage gathered for a stunning holiday gala in the Crystal Room of the historic Willard Hotel, a Washington landmark just steps from the White House. The hotel dazzled with beautiful holiday decorations, as carolers in the lobby and Christmas trees heralded in the holiday season and welcomed visitors. In addition to celebrating the holidays, the evening was also a celebration of fine champagnes selected to complement each course of the fabulous meal.
The Willard's Executive Chef, Chef Rotisseur Peter Laufer, created the menu for the gala, assisted by Executive Pastry Chef Jason Jimenez. Both chefs showed that they have the culinary mastery and artistic vision to create sophisticated and subtle dishes and stunning presentations and plating. The Willard's General Manager and Regional Director for Operations Mid Atlantic, Maitre de Table Restauranteur Patrick Burchall, and his team also contributed to make the evening a success.
Bailliage members and guests were welcomed at a champagne reception, with passed hors d'oeuvres, including a Royal Red Shrimp Gelee, a skinned half of a small tomato, filled with minced Royal Red shrimp and brushed with a tomato gelee; Triple A creamer miniature baked potatoes garnished with Sevruga caviar and piped sour cream; and a goat cheese and fig napoleon. A Billecart-Salmon Extra Brut, 2006 accompanied the hors d'oeuvres.
The dinner began with a first course of Foie Gras Opera Tort and Oxtail Consommé with a Foie Gras Ravioli en Croute. The foie gras tort was a free-standing tower of brioche, duck confit, and a foie gras mousse, topped with a disk of bittersweet chocolate, with each layer maintaining its integrity and texture despite having been prepared in a narrow mold. The combination of foie gras and bittersweet chocolate was unexpected but effective-the bitterness of the chocolate moderated the richness of the foie gras mousse. The Oxtail Consommé arrived covered in a puff pastry crust that sealed the wonderful aromas into the bowl until the pastry was opened and the rich scents of both truffle and foie gras were released for each diner.1 This first course was matched with a Gonet-Medeville 1er Cru Extra Brut Rose, NV.
The fish course was a perfectly cooked Barramundi (Asian sea bass) with a light potato and horseradish crust, served with petit pois verts and a Puligny red wine jus. Chef Laufer's presentation of this dish was elegant, visually stunning, and matched by perfect seasoning and flavors. A Charles Orban Millesime Brut, 2006, accompanied this course.
Following the fish, Pastry Chef Jason Jimenez served a grapefruit-Campari granite intermezzo in a martini glass topped with a delicate orange-sesame tuile, and grapefruit "caviar" of spheres of gelatinized grapefruit juice. When the tuile was broken, the small, intensely flavored grapefruit pearls dropped onto the granite and visually highlighted its color and texture. An edible pansy provided additional color contrast and bright highlights. The dish provided a light and refreshing break to the meal and prepared the diners for the next course.
The next course, the entrée, was spectacular. For this course, and in keeping with the origins and heritage of the Chaîne, Chef Laufer selected a Rotisserie Cochon de Lait (suckling pig) and Eight-Pepper-Crusted Tenderloin of Beef garnished with a Mascarpone-Morel Flan and Baby Winter Vegetables. The Cochon de Lait arrived as a roasted noisette of skin-on suckling pig belly (a preparation similar to a porchetta roast but with subtle seasonings adjusted and adapted to the light flavor of the suckling pig). The result was a succulent, moist, and flavorful loin covered in an outer shell of crispy skin "cracklin'." The Black Angus beef tenderloin from "44 Farms" of Cameron, Texas, arrived on the plate as a beautiful and light medium-rare. The pork and beef were accompanied by a morel mushroom panna cotta, which provided a rich mushroom aroma and flavor that went well with both meats without being heavy. Unlike the other courses, the wine with this course was a Chateau des Eyrins Margaux, 2010, rather than champagne.
The cheese course continued the progression of rich, earthy flavors-a Fromage de Meaux Farci aux Truffles (Brie stuffed with a thin layer of truffles), which had a great aroma and subtle truffle flavor. The cheese was accompanied by toasted brioche points, truffled honey, and mustard blossoms, which added an additional touch of spiciness. With this course, we went back to champagne, tasting a Billecart-Salmon Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, NV.
Pastry Chef Jason Jimenez' dessert was a masterpiece of concept and technique. Chef Jimenez created the dessert and its presentation for the Chaîne, drawing inspiration from the idea of "a walk in the forest." On a bed of grated dark chocolate (the forest floor) which gained texture from the addition of Cocoa Breton Crumbs, he added a quenelle of green apple sorbet garnished with a wafer-thin slice of dried green apple; meringue mushrooms grew next to a chocolate cremeux "log," with freehand chocolate "twigs," fresh and mint gel berries, and crystalized fennel frond "ferns." The flavors and overall effect of the presentation were outstanding, and the dish showed off Chef Jimenez' considerable technical and artistic skill. Along with the dessert, the group enjoyed a Billecort-Salmon Brut Rose, NV. Dinner concluded with a farewell selection of mignardises from Chef Jimenez, including a variety of truffles, miniature fruit tarts, opera cake, and a blueberry frangipane tart.
At the conclusion of the meal, Vice Conseiller Culinaire Provincial Honoraire Chef Francois Dionot and Bailli Judith Mazza presented Chef Rotisseur Peter Laufer with a Chaîne plate to thank him and his team for an exceptional experience. In fact, he was invited to become a Maître Rotisseur and should be inducted as such at the Bailliage's 50th Anniversary Celebration in October, 2017.
The annual holiday Gala has become one of the most popular events of the Washington Bailliage-and with good reason. We have had the good fortune this year to have had some of the best chefs in Washington prepare some of their best menus for us and this holiday gala was no exception. Executive Chef Peter Laufer and Pastry Chef Jason Jimenez brought technical mastery and true culinary inspiration to produce a stunning, exceptional dinner on our behalf, and we are grateful to them and to their teams for a truly special evening.
1 The dish was presented in a fashion similar to Paul Bocuse's celebrated "Soupe aux Truffles Elysee."