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The Crowd: An evening of French tradition for men

October 28, 2011|By B.W. Cook
  • Mitchell Sussman, Mardo Ayvazyan, Michael Bryan and Tom Wilson attend Henry Schielein's Autumn Les Amis d' Escoffier dinner.
Mitchell Sussman, Mardo Ayvazyan, Michael Bryan and… (unknown, Daily…)

Ever dreamed of time-traveling back to another age to experience life under vastly different circumstances? That opportunity presented itself this week to 36 men in Newport Beach.

Hotelier Henry Schielein, president of the Balboa Bay Club & Resort and founder of the Les Amis d'Escoffier Society of Southern California, invited a select contingent of men to dinner under the banner of "Le Diner d'Automne."

It was prepared and served in the classic, and very 19th century, French tradition of Auguste Escoffier, "the chef of kings and the king of chefs." The Escoffier Society is a worldwide organization with chapters in many nations.

Born in France in 1846, Escoffier began his culinary career at the age of 12, working as an apprentice in his uncle's restaurant in Nice. He would go on to revolutionize French cuisine, and, in so doing so, modernize and elevate standards in kitchens worldwide.

Escoffier's philosophy was to prepare foods while preserving their utmost nutritional value and creating a "refined simplicity" of cooking and presentation. His standards internationally remain a high watermark today for serious chefs.

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That said, the world of 19th century Europe vanished long ago. Formal dining at tables ladened with gleaming silver, fine bone china and linens of French and Belgian lace are but a distant memory preserved for modern generations mostly via period films.

Beyond the setting, the labor and the cost of food prohibits replication of the true Escoffier experience for all but a very fortunate few. In Newport Beach, Schielein's autumn dinner welcomed those fortunate few, dressed in black-tie sans their wives, girlfriends or female gastronomes for an 11-course dining experience. It could have been an evening at The Ritz in Paris at the height of the Belle Époque.

Guests —including Bob Robins, John Wortmann, James Pierog, Daniel Thomas, Tom Wilson, Peter Buffa, William Mathews, Richard Beine, Lowell Way, Troy Roe and Max Rogers — entered a candle-lit reception area in "The Grill" dining room, greeted by white-tie attired waiters pouring Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut.

Sommelier Jeffrey Converse politely corrected one gent who referred to the champagne, pronouncing Jouët as Joué, explaining that the "t" is enunciated because it is the partnership of French Perrier with the Dutch firm of Jouët, dating back a century.

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