2019 Grand Induction Gala at The Watergate
by Bill Babash, Vice Chargé de Presse
The Bailliage of Greater Washington, DC, assembled at the Watergate Hotel on September 20, 2019 for its annual grand induction and gala dinner. Having recently undergone a $125 million renovation, the Watergate was a superb venue for the largest induction in the bailliage’s 52-year history. Maître Rôtisseur Sébastien Giannini had wowed attendees with his cuisine at the 2018 induction at the St. Regis, where was then Executive Chef. He moved to the Watergate Hotel in January 2019, and the bailliage eagerly anticipated what delights would come from his new kitchen. The wait was worth it, as Chef Giannini thrilled diners with his exceptional cuisine, inspired by classic dishes and executed with contemporary flair and precision.
Early arriving members and guests took full advantage of the perfect early-fall weather to enjoy the view and sip a cocktail at the “Top of the ‘Gate” rooftop bar, with its commanding view down the Potomac River to the Kennedy Center and upstream to Georgetown and the Key Bridge. Festivities began in earnest in the Moretti Foyer, where Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Millésime 2009 flowed freely. This Champagne is distinctive in that it is made from 100% chardonnay, for which the Le Mesnil Coöperative is known. Servers passed plentiful platters of delectable canapés: Chilled Maine lobster “tartelette” with ossetra caviar, sautéed swordfish mousseline, and citrus was a indulgent combination; roasted red and yellow bell pepper with pine nuts, chicory salad with grilled zucchini and fresh goat cheese was bursting with garden flavor; sea urchin flan with creamed leaks, sea urchin sauce, and sun-dried tomato brunoise served in miniature sauce pans was positively decadent; and fresh Icelandic cod loin that had been cured for just 20 minutes in a 50/50 mix of sugar and salt, cooked for only five minutes, and finished with truffle vinaigrette – subtle techniques that showcased the outstanding flavor and texture of the fish.
The gathering then moved to the Moretti Ballroom for the induction ceremony. Bailli Judy Mazza first offered a special welcome to two officers from the Bailliage of Buffalo, New York, who were joining us for the evening — Dr. Helen Cappuccino, Bailli in Buffalo and Chargée de Presse Provincial for the Northeast Region, and Dr. Andy Cappuccino, Buffalo’s Vice-Conseiller Gastronomique and Échanson Provincial for the Northeast Region. She also recognized and welcomed several long-time Chaîne members who were being reinstated, transferring to our bailliage, or newly residing in the area.
Judy then introduced Matt Karstetter, Chambellan Provincial de Mid-Atlantic and Bailli of the Delaware Valley Bailliage, who we were honored to have as the inducting officer. Matt was joined by Judy, Vice Conseiller Culinaire François Dionot, and Vice Chancelier-Argentier David Burka in performing the induction rituals for the 18 new non-professionals and six new professional confrères in attendance. The ceremony began with Matt leading the inductees in the Chaîne oath. Judy then called each new member to the front where François placed the ribbon on the new confrère. Matt then laid a 200-year-old French sword known as a briquet on their shoulder and bestowed upon each their new Chaîne title. Finally, David oversaw new members signing the “gold pages,” the official membership documentation that is held by the Chaîne’s international headquarter in Paris. David also presented each with the bailliage’s welcome packet, containing the chapter pin, 50th anniversary pin, and 50th anniversary booklet with the history of the bailliage.
Following the same rituals, Ray Villarreal was elevated to the rank of Vice Chargé de Missions, after which Judy presented the “Honoraire” pin to outgoing Vice Chargé de Missions Tom Walsh, thanking him for his years of dedicated service.
Ten members of the bailliage who were responsible for new members joining over the past year received “Share the Chaîne” pins. In recognition of their tenure with the Chaîne, nine members received silver Commandeur pins for 10 years of membership, and four received gold Commandeur pins celebrating 20 years of membership.
Judy then surprised Vice Cancelier Argentier David Burka with the bailliage “gift of gratitude” – a bottle of Champagne and a pair of Riedel flutes – for his invaluable efforts to quickly replace the outdated climate control system in the bailliage’s wine cellar, which had failed during the heat of the summer.
Baillis are permitted to award the Chaîne’s Bronze Star of Excellence just once a year and this year Judy awarded it to Ray Villarreal for his tireless efforts in the wine cellar. Thanks to Ray, the cellar now has a laptop computer so the inventory can be updated as wine comes and goes and rubberized flooring to prevent disaster if a bottle is dropped. Ray also frequently transports the wine from the cellar to numerous event venues. Well done, and congratulations, Ray!
The assembly then moved to the adjacent dining room, elegantly set with silver, crystal, and fresh flowers, for an exquisite dinner prepared by Chef Giannini and his team. The meal began with an amuse-bouche – fig mouse and roasted fresh figs with foie gras, rose blossom water, and honeycomb, finished with fleur de sel, perfectly halved peppercorns, and a petite violet. This wonderful mélange of sweet and savory paired seamlessly with the notes of fruit and spice in the Domaine Henri Boillot Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Pucelles 2016, a 100% chardonnay from the Côte de Beaune in Burgundy.
Chef Giannini then served two appetizers. First was a sautéed scallop, with potato, chanterelle, a shallot and white wine reduction, and Savora mustard. The scallop was beautifully cooked, while the subtle mustard elevated the entire dish. Second was a nougat de canard et foie gras with truffle vinaigrette. Duck confit and foie gras were artistically presented in this dish that was as exciting for the eyes as it was for the palate. Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard Pierre de Prehy Chablis 1er Cru Côte de Léchet 2016 accompanied both dishes. The Côte de Léchet vineyard benefits from being on western bank of the Serein River, where the less intense morning sun helps ripening and ensures ample acidity. The classic clay and limestone soil of the Chablis region gives this wine its distinctive minerality.
The evening’s entrée was Jameson Farm Lamb Folie Folie. “Folie folie” translates from French as “crazy madness”, a light-hearted description of the three variations on lamb on each plate: The rosemary accented grilled chop was cooked to a perfect medium-rare and served with house-made harissa. Chef Giannini’s harissa was intensely flavorful but with restrained spiciness that let the lamb flavor come through. The smoke rib was meltingly tender and simply delicious, and the 24-hour shoulder confit was delectably rich. Pommes purée with parsley mouselline was a creamy and colorful accompaniment to complete the dish. With its spice, dark berry, and oak aromas, the E. Guigal Côte Rôtie Brune et Blonde 2015 was a great match for this exploration of lamb preparations. From the heart of the Côte Rôtie appellation, this blend is 96% syrah from the Côte Brune vineyard, which produces an intense wine, with a 4% viognier from the Côte Blonde vineyard for subtlety. It is aged for 36 months in oak barrels, 50% of which are new.
Before dessert it was time for the Société Mondiale du Vin induction. The Société is the part of the Chaîne that focuses on appreciation of wine and fine spirits. This somewhat irreverent ceremony was led by Matt Karstetter, Judy Mazza, François Dionot, David Burka, and Vice Échanson Ellen Kirsh, each wearing their bright blue and red Société robes and matching floppy hats. Six members of the bailliage, with the encouragement of all in the room, gleefully took the Société oath, promising to enjoy the camaraderie that accompanies fine beverages (in moderation, of course). A Champagne toast of “Vive la Société! Vive la Chaîne!” capped the ceremony.
Judy thanked Chef Giannini for the outstanding meal, and the Watergate’s Managing Director Pascal Forotti for the gracious hospitality. She presented each with a gift from the bailliage as a token of our appreciation. The chef then introduced his kitchen brigade and servers, to whom François Dionot presented Chaîne pins.
Dessert was a luxurious tarte au chocolat with ganache à la menthe fraîche, crème légère au Grand Marnier, and écorce d’orange (orange peel). Candied hazelnuts and a curl of edible silver completed this delicious treat. Château du Cèdre Côtes du Lot Le Cèdre Malbec Vintage 2011 was an inspired paring to match the sweetness and richness of the dark chocolate tarte. Malbec is the specialty of Château du Cèdre, and grapes for this wine are harvested late to increase the level of sugar. Neutral spirit is added to halt fermentation before all the sugars are converted to alcohol, creating a medium-sweet wine with 16% alcohol.
The evening was not quite over, however, as members and guests adjourned to the foyer for coffee, mignardise, and conversation with friends and confrères – a delightful conclusion to a memorable evening. Many people are saying it was the most notable event at the Watergate since June of 1972.