Holiday Traditions at the Willard
by Bill Babash, Vicé Charge de Presse
The Bailliage of Greater Washington, D.C., gathered to induct new members into the Chaîne, present several awards, and, of course, enjoy fine food and wine at a wonderful black-tie event at the Willard InterContinental Hotel on December 13, 2022.
With its Beaux Arts style and location just two blocks from the White House, the Willard is a landmark of both Washington architecture and political history, and for the past nine years has been the home of the bailliage’s holiday gala. At the holidays, a 20-foot Christmas tree in the hotel’s soaring lobby is the focal point of classic Christmas decorations throughout the hotel that create a wonderfully traditional holiday atmosphere. A gingerbread recreation of the hotel deliciously captured the hotel’s grand style.
As members and guests arrived they were welcomed in the opulent Crystal Room with a glass of Champagne Le Mesnil Blanc de Blane Grand Cru Brut NV. The vineyards of the village of Le Mesnil sur Oger boast extraordinary terroir and have all earned the grand cru designation. This 100% chardonnay is cellar-aged for at least three years, creating a rich wine with fine bubbles and a yeasty flavor with hints of citrus. Attendees greeted friends and met new ones as white-gloved servers offered a selection of luxurious hors d’oeuvres: lobster salad on bite-size brioche; duck with hoisin pinwheels, and foie gras mousse on puff pastry.
The group then moved to the Willard’s Peacock Lounge for the official ceremonies. Bailli Judy Mazza began the proceedings by introducing John Fannin, Bailli Provincial Mid-Atlantic and Membre du Conseil Magistral, who served as the inducting officer for the evening. She then welcomed George Staikos, the Chaîne’s Grand Échanson des Etats-Unis who would serve as the presiding officer for the Société Mondale du Vin induction later in the evening.
Following Chaîne tradition, Judy called each inductee – ten non-professionals and one professional – to the front of the room where Vice Gastronomique Pat Carroll presented them with their ribbon. John then placed a ceremonial sword on their shoulder and recited the proclamation declaring them a new Chevalier, Dame de la Chaîne, or Maître Restaurateur. Inductees then signed the Gold Page and received their bailliage pin and distinctive challenge coin. Following the induction of new members, Judy and John elevated Mark Lewonowski to become the bailliage’s new Vice Chargé de Missions, a key role in the bailliage with a particular focus on its wine cellar.
[Behind the scenes: The swords used in the induction are known as briquet and were used by the French Imperial Guard Infantry from 1800 to 1830 and thus were easily 200 years old. Coincidently, that evening the Willard was also hosting VIPs, including heads of state, from several countries who were in Washington for the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit. The Secret Service had implemented tight security throughout the hotel for that event and those dignitaries, so military swords could have been problematic. Judy thanked the Willard’s Director of Catering and Conference Services, Maître Restaurateur Julia Rapley, for coordinating with the Secret Service to allow us to have the swords in the hotel. Only in Washington!]
Judy then welcomed existing Chaîne members who are new to the Greater Washington Bailliage: Maître Restaurateur Evangelo Mitsotakis, owner of Mykonos Grill in Rockville, Maryland, who was reinstating his Chaîne membership and Chevalier Marc Mancher, a certified sommelier who transferred to the Greater Washington Bailliage from the Bailliage of Indianapolis.
It was then time for Judy to present several awards:
Maître Restaurateur Eddie Benaim received a Gold Commandeur pin to mark his twenty years of membership and five confrères received Silver Commandeur pins for their ten years of membership.
The D.C. Chaîne Gift of Gratitude is the bailliage’s informal way of recognizing a member who has made a distinctive contribution to the bailliage. It was first presented to Argentier David Burka and is thus humorously known as the “Burka Box” and contains a bottle of Champagne from the bailliage’s cellar. This year’s recipient was Chevalier Eric Haun, to thank him for contributing excellent articles documenting multiple bailliage events for the bailliage’s website.
The Bronze Mondiale Medal of Honor is awarded at most once a year and Judy presented this year’s medal to Chevalier Marc Mancher. Although he is relatively new to the Washington bailliage, Judy cited Marc’s enthusiasm in taking a leadership role in planning and executing Mondiale events.
The evening’s final award was the prestigious Chaîne Bronze Medal of Honor, which a bailli can present just once a year. Judy was pleased to recognize Maître Hôtelier Markus Platzer with the medal this year. Markus is the General Manager of the Willard InterContinental and Area General Manager Mid-Atlantic for IHG Hotels and Resorts.
Judy noted, “Markus is responsible for leading a team that excels in gracious hospitality and impeccable service. You’ve seen how busy the hotel is this evening hosting VIPs from the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit currently underway in Washington. Nonetheless, Markus is here, supporting us, attending to details, and making us feel at home. While the bailliage typically thrives on discovering new restaurants across the region, for our holiday gala we love coming back to Willard year after year. We entitled this event, ‘Home for the Holidays’ and Markus is largely one of the reasons we feel this way.”
Judy presented Bailli Provincial Mid-Atlantic John Fannin with a framed challenge coin from the Bailliage of Greater Washington to thank him for serving as the evening’s inducting officer, noting that these coins are only given to members of the bailliage and to inducting officers.
With that, Bailli Judy Mazza thought the ceremonial portion of the evening was completed and was about to invite attendees to return to the Crystal Room for dinner when John Fannin stepped up to the podium. In a surprise to everyone in the room – especially Judy – John announced that Bailli Judy Mazza was the recipient of International Silver Award in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the Chaîne. John presented her with the unique medallion, which that is only available upon special request by a Bailli Provincial or the Bailli Délégué of the Bailliage des États Unis d’Amérique from the Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs international office in Paris. Judy, rather speechless from the surprise honor, received a standing ovation from the assembly, congratulating her on the well-earned recognition at the international level of the Chaîne.
With the investitures and honors completed, the assembly moved back to the Crystal Room for a spectacular dinner prepared by the Willard’s Executive Chef, Maître Rôtisseur Luca De Marchis and his culinary team – Chef de Cuisine Gyo Santa, Banquet Chef Mauricio Manzano, and Pastry Chef Sabri Uzun. Each course was paired with a wine from the bailliage’s cellar, with George Staikos, the Chaîne’s Grand Échanson des États-Unis, sharing his expert insight into the wines as they were being poured.
Dinner began with a delicious seafood vol au vent. Airy and crisp puff pastry was filled with generous amounts of shrimp, scallops, calamari, and mussels, all in a rich lobster stew garnished with caramelized pearl onions and exotic mushrooms. The dish was paired with Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Premier Cru Vau du Vey, 2017. This 100% chardonnay is from the premier cru vineyards of the Vau du Vey climat in the western Chablis region, where morning sun and northerly winds allow the grapes to enjoy a lengthy ripening. After 14 months of fermentation, the wine is aged 50% in stainless steel and 50% in old oak and undergoes malolactic fermentation. The result is a wine that is intense and more rounded than a traditionally crisp Chablis – superb with the luscious seafood of this course.
Next was Dover sole with morel mushrooms and a brandy cream sauce. The earthy morels made the delicately cooked fresh fish even more indulgent, with the brandy cream sauce beautifully accenting the composition. Domaine Philippe Charlopin Gevrey-Chambertin Morceaux Cuvée Vieilles Vignes, 2010 was a great match. This 100% pinot noir is from vines that are 60 to 100 years old in the Côte de Nuits region of Burgundy. This 2010 vintage had aged beautifully, revealing notes of red fruits, tobacco, and leather that highlighted all the sophisticated flavors of the dish.
A prickly pear sorbet with lime granité intermezzo refreshed palates between courses. The tart citrus was a bright counterpoint to the distinctive and slightly sweet flavors of the cactus.
The final savory course was roasted duck breast Rossini with seared foie gras, parsnip purée, and truffle demi-glace. The duck was cooked to a perfect temperature and was delicious on its own, but with the foie gras it was transcendent. The parsnip purée, prepared with copious amounts of butter, was a velvety accompaniment, with the truffle demi-glace adding a rich and flavorful finishing touch to the plate. The Château Barde-Haut Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 1998 with its notes of plum, black pepper, and leather was a worthy partner to the duck. This robust wine is 75% merlot and 25% cabernet franc from vines that average 36 years old and is aged in 100% new oak for 18 months.
Before dessert, George Staikos, the Chaîne’s Grand Échanson des États-Unis, Bailli Judy Mazza, Vice Conseiller Gastronomique Pat Carroll, and Vice Chargé de Missions Mark Lewonowski donned the traditional robes and floppy hats of the Société Mondiale du Vin for the induction of six new members. In this light-hearted ceremony, George led the inductees in the recitation of the Mondiale oath after which they received their tastevin pin for their Chaîne ribbon to signify their membership in the Société. The induction was capped, of course, with a Champagne toast. Judy thanked George for leading the induction with a framed challenge coin from the Bailliage of Greater Washington D.C.
Dinner was capped with a duo of desserts by pastry chef Sabri Uzun. A raspberry lychee tart and strawberry cheesecake dipped in ruby chocolate created a festive and most delicious plate. The ruby chocolate was a particularly interesting ingredient. Introduced in 2017 by Callebaut, it is produced from specific varieties of cocoa beans and is naturally pink in color with a distinct element of sour in its flavor profile, making it particularly delicious with berries. A glass of Blandy’s Baul Madeira 5 Year paired nicely with both desserts. The technique to produce Madeira wine was discovered by accident at the end of the 15th century. The island of Madeira was a port-of-call for ships to take on wine and water for journeys to the New World, East Indies, and India. During the voyage, the wines — fortified with distilled spirits to prevent spoilage — were exposed to tropical heat and constant movement. When an unsold shipment of wine was returned to the island, the producers discovered it was greatly improved. For centuries following, Madeira wines were sent on round trip sea journeys just for the transformation. Today, temperature-controlled stainless-steel tanks or wood casks recreate the signature Madeira heating and aging processes without the need for an actual sea voyage.
As dinner concluded, Judy presented Chef De Marchis with a Chaîne baseball cap as a small token of the bailliage’s appreciation for making it such a memorable dinner. She laughed when she noted that the bailliage had been holding its holiday event at the Willard for so many years that she was running out of Chaîne swag to present to him. Judy also thanked the kitchen brigade and service staff for their hard work and presented each with a Chaîne pin. With the holiday spirit in full swing, many confreres lingered after dinner, continuing conversations late into the evening. And it’s not too early to save the date – Tuesday, December 12, 2023 – for next year’s Grand Induction and Gala Holiday Dinner at the Willard.