Holiday Traditions at the Willard
by Bill Babash, Vice Chargé de Presse
The holidays are a time for tradition, and the Bailliage of Greater Washington, D.C., continued its own as it returned for the seventh time to the Willard InterContinental Hotel for its holiday gala on December 11, 2019. Just two blocks from the White House, the Willard has been a Washington institution since 1818. Each December, the hotel envelops all who enter with the sights, smells, and sounds of a classic Christmas as no other Washington location can – an elegant Christmas tree reaches to the 25-foot ceiling of the hotel’s Beaux-Arts lobby while the rich red of poinsettias, the aroma of mulled wine, and the harmonious voices of local choirs singing carols fill the grand space. In a nearby alcove, the Willard’s Executive Pastry Chef Jason Jimenez continued his tradition of recreating Washington landmarks in extraordinary gingerbread displays. This year, he created an impressive and detailed gingerbread Jefferson Memorial set on a replica of the Tidal Basin, complete with live fish.
Confrères and guests gathered in the opulent Crystal Room, mingling with friends old and new, enjoying harpist Kristen Jepperson’s exquisite interpretation of holiday classics, and sipping a glass of Gonet-Médeville 1er Cru Cuvée Blanc de Noirs NV. This 100% pinot noir from the premier cru vineyards of Bisseuil in the Marne Valley is an elegant Champagne with hints of green apple and toasted nuts. Servers passed a selection of indulgent hors d’oeuvres – stilton, quince paste, and candied pecan on a macaroon; double-fried coconut lobster with mango chutney; and escargot and lentils served in a bite-size pastry casserole – delicious bites that hinted at the wonderful meal to follow.
Maître Hôtelier Commandeur Markus Platzer, General Manager of the Willard, warmly welcomed the bailliage, noting that hosting the Chaîne is a highlight of the season for the Willard team. The gathering then took its seats at tables elegantly adorned with green and gold tablecloths and special china for a sumptuous dinner inspired by the Mediterranean flavors of Executive Chef Maître Rôtisseur Luca de Marchis’ native Italy. De Marchis, Chef de Cuisine Gyo Santa, and Chef Jimenez delighted the gathering with six superbly executed courses, each paired with an exceptional wine from the bailliage’s cellar.
Chef Santa introduced the octopus and prawn that opened the dinner. Braised for three hours with lemon, garlic, thyme, and rosemary, the octopus was incredibly tender and flavorful as it embraced a steamed, head-on jumbo prawn from South Carolina marinated in rice vinegar. Celery root panna cotta, micro celery, and a red beet reduction finished the dish. Staying with the wine from the reception, the Gonet-Médeville Champagne beautifully complemented the seafood.
Chestnut soup and foie gras were next. A demitasse of velvety cream of chestnut soup was delicious with seared foie gras, accompanied by a candied chestnut to complete a holiday trio on the plate. Good intensity on the palate, along with notes of brioche, toasted oak, and pear, made the Charles Orban Brut Cuvée Spéciale Millésime Troissy 2006 a great choice with this course. The Orban family has been growing grapes in Troissy, a village on the left bank of the Marne, in the Champagne region, since 1770. Troissy’s vineyards cover 820 acres, planted mostly with pinot meunier (86%); pinot noir and chardonnay represent 8% and 6% respectively. While this region is known for its pinot meunier, the Orban estate’s vineyards provide all three types of grapes for its Champagne to ensure the authenticity of its vintage.
The salad course featured a classic salade Lyonnaise served in a crisp pastry shell. Frisée, lardon, and haricots verts were topped with a perfectly poached quail egg and served with a delicate Dijon mustard vinaigrette. Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis “Les Vieilles Vignes de Sainte-Claire” 2017 featured aromas of lemon and the classic minerality of the Chablis terroir, enabling it to pair nicely with the freshness of the salad.
Chef Jimenez then surprised diners with a delicious and fun intermezzo – a petite ruby chocolate-dipped lychee sorbet popsicle on a tiny popsicle stick.The refreshing tropical sorbet was dipped in ruby chocolate, which is derived from a rare variety of cocoa bean with a natural red color grown only in Côte d’Ivoire, Brazil, and Ecuador. Ruby chocolate is notable for its desirable sour notes rather than the classic cocoa flavor of other chocolates. The popsicle was presented on rose granité made with rose oil and rosewater. Domaine de la Bélière Bugey Cerdon Méthode Ancestrale NV was an inspired pairing. This pink semi-dry bubbly is produced from 100% gamay grapes in the Savoie region of France. The méthode ancestrale begins with natural, spontaneous fermentation in chilled vats, where the wine reaches just 6% alcohol. At that point, fermentation is stopped, and the young, light wine is bottled along with its active yeast and considerable unfermented sugar. The wine finishes its fermentation at 8% alcohol and is filtered and rebottled. The wine’s pink color, playful bubbles, and slight sweetness was delightful with the unusual chocolate and lychee treat.
The next course was a great example of Chef de Marchis’ innovation and mastery of technique. Inspired by Mediterranean traditions and flavors, he brought together fish and pasta courses with a pan-seared filet of red mullet from Spain on rigatoni stuffed with sautéed artichoke and boursin cheese. Black trumpet mushrooms and truffle butter sauce completed the dish. The mild taste and crispy skin of the fish paired with the al dente pasta and its rich filling created superb combinations of flavor and texture. Domaine Philippe Charlopin Morey St. Denis 2012, a savory and classic pinot noir from the Côte de Nuits region in the heart of Burgundy, was a wonderful match for this sophisticated course.
The final savory dish was roasted squab with grilled radicchio and hibiscus glaze. Meaty seared breast of squab and leg confit that had been cooked at 175° for five hours were outstanding. The touch of bitterness in the radicchio was a great counterpoint to the subtle floral sweetness of the hibiscus gastrique. Bodegas Benjamin de Rothschild & Vega Sicilia Rioja Macán 2011from Samaniego, near the Rioja region of Spain, worked nicely with the flavors of the dish. After its primary fermentation, this 100% tempranillo undergoes secondary (malolactic) fermentation in barrels (30%) and tanks (70%), which softens its acidity. It is then aged for 15 months in new and one-wine French oak barrels, further enriching this classic varietal.
Dessert was a decadent Mediterranean Valrhona chocolate bar. Toasted millet and chia seeds in the bar’s praline base gave it a great crunch, complementing the creaminess of 64% Valrhona Tainori chocolate from the Dominican Republic and the distinctive flavor of pistachio cremeaux. The accompanying olive oil-apricot ice cream was delicious and a crème anglaise with bloomed chia seeds added still more flavor and texture. The plate was completed with a pistachio tuille and a white chocolate disk with the Chaîne logo. With its notes of black fruit, cocoa, and subtle spice, Orenga de Gaffory Rappo Vin de Liqueur NV was a great pairing. Founded in 1967, Domaine Orenga de Gaffory is situated in the midst of the Patrimonio appellation on the northern tip Corsica. For this wine, aleatico grapes, which are genetically similar to muscat, are macerated with their skin for 15-20 days, fortified with grape spirit, and aged in old French oak barrels.
As the evening concluded, Bailli Judy Mazza thanked the kitchen brigade and service staff, as Vice Chargé de Presse Bill Babash presented each with a Chaîne pin. She congratulated Chef de Marchis and the entire culinary team on yet another unforgettable culinary experience and gave Maître Rotisseur de Marchis a commemorative bailliage coin in a lovely display case. Maître Hôtelier Platzer received a silver engraved Chaîne wine coaster, which he laughingly said would be put to frequent use. There was one more surprise before the evening ended as Judy announced that there was a gift bag containing a bottle of wine from the bailliage’s cellar for each attendee.
The evening of outstanding food, wine, and Chaîne camaraderie was certainly a highlight of the festive season for all. And the tradition will continue – mark your calendars for Wednesday, December 16, 2020, as the bailliage returns to the Willard for its next celebration of the holidays.
About the Chefs
Maître Rôtisseur Luca De Marchis. Executive Chef
Executive Chef Luca De Marchis was born in Sestri Levante, Italy, a small village between Cinque Terre and the French Riviera, in 1976. He has been working in kitchens since 1995 and received his degree from the Culinary Institute in Lavagna, Italy in 1998. Upon graduation, he began cooking at Fiamenghilla dei Fieschi, a Michelin-starred restaurant in his home town, before moving to the five-star Grand Hotel Miramare in Santa Margherita, Italy.
In January 2000, Chef De Marchis arrived in Washington, DC, where he served as Chef de Cuisine at Tivoli restaurant for 6 years. Ultimately, he decided to focus his career completely on hotels, working for three years at the at the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City, then at the Lansdowne Resort, the Westin Washington Dulles, the Washington Plaza, and now the Willard InterContinental, where he has been Executive Chef since July 2018 .
Even though he has been away from Italy for almost 20 years, Chef De Marchis’ cooking techniques and flavor palate have retained a Mediterranean base and reflect his Italian roots. His culinary philosophy is to evolve classic dishes with modern techniques while never hiding the original flavor of the main ingredient.
Gyo Santa, Chef de Cuisine
Chef de Cuisine Gyo Santa is a 2001 graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Paris Culinary Arts and Hotel Management Institute, where he earned diplomas in both cuisine and pastry before working at the school as a Chef’s Assistant. He then served for nearly three years as Master Chef at the Michelin 2-starred Lasserre in Paris before becoming Executive Sous Chef at La Table de Joël Robuchon, also 2-starred by Michelin, where he remained for over four years. Chef Santa then led the launch of Les Tablettes de Jean-Louis Nomicos as the Chef de Cuisine, which, under his leadership, earned its Michelin star just one year later.
Upon moving to Washington in 2011, Chef Santa spent five years on the culinary team at The St. Regis Washington D.C, where he worked with Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse as the Executive Sous-Chef at Adour. When Adour transitioned into Decanter, Chef Santa led the opening team as Chef de Cuisine.
In June 2016, Chef Santa became the Executive Chef of iCi Urban Bistro at the Sofitel Washington D.C. Lafayette Square. He joined the Willard InterContinental as Chef de Cuisine in February 2018.
Born in Japan, and fluent in Japanese, French and English, Chef Santa’s passion for culinary art began with traditional Japanese cuisine. His blending of cultures translates beautifully into his dishes, where the quality and freshness of ingredients and the balance of presentation drive his gastronomy style.
Jason Jimenez, Executive Pastry Chef
Executive Pastry Chef Jason Jimenez graduated at the top of his class from Baltimore International College with a degree in Baking and Pastry Arts in 1999. His education included two months at The Park Hotel in County Cavan, Ireland studying European classical desserts, and a six-month internship at the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City in Virginia.
After BIC, Chef Jimenez remained at the Ritz-Carlton, where he broadened his experience preparing desserts for the hotel’s fine dining restaurant, private dining, banquets, and the lounge, along with working with the Ritz’ Executive Chef on numerous catering events at embassies and area businesses. Demonstrating his extraordinary skill and creativity, the chef and his team created a life-size, walk-through gingerbread house in the hotel’s lobby.
Chef Jimenez joined the Willard InterContinental in 2001 as a Pastry Cook, moving up the ranks to Assistant Pastry Chef and, in 2007, to Pastry Chef. In 2018, he was promoted to Executive Pastry Chef. In this position, he prepares desserts for the Willard’s Café du Parc, private dining, and the catering and banquet areas. The chef is known for his stunning wedding cakes and beautiful chocolate showpieces. His work has been seen