Holiday Traditions at the Willard
by Bill Babash, Vice Chargé de Presse
The Bailliage of Greater Washington, DC, continued its decade-long tradition of celebrating the festive season at the Willard InterContinental with a black-tie gala on December 15, 2021. This year, the evening included inductions into the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs and the Société Mondiale du Vin. The Willard’s beaux art architecture and traditional Christmas decorations, including a twenty-foot Christmas tree in the hotel’s grand lobby, created a splendid setting for the memorable evening.
Members and guests gathered in the Willard’s opulent Crystal Room where they were welcomed with a glass of Billecart-Salmon Brut Sous Bois, NV. Aging for six years in oak casks gives this exceptional Champagne its distinctive characteristics as well as its name – sous bois being French for “under wood.” Attendees reconnected with friends and met new ones while enjoying a selection of delectable passed hors d’oeuvres: a savory mini-cone filled with blue crab and avocado mousse; blini with humus, Asian-glazed pork belly, and espelette pepper; and a black olive pesto and artichoke vol-au-vent.
The gathering then moved to the Willard’s Peacock Lounge for the induction ceremony. A black N95 mask customized with the Chaîne logo awaited each attendee, adding a bit of formal style to pandemic precautions.
The bailliage was honored to have Bailli Délégué des États-Unis Bertrand de Boutray serve as the inducting officer for thirteen new non-professional members and three new professional members. As Bailli Judy Mazza called each of the inductees forward, Vice Conseiller Culinaire François Dionot presented them with their Chaîne ribbon, and Bertrand formally bestowed upon them their new Chaîne title by placing a 200-year-old French infantry sword known as a briquet on their shoulder and reciting the official welcome.
The bailliage was also pleased to have Stuart Goldberg, Chambellan Provincial de Mid-Atlantic in attendance. Stuart shared with the assembled a letter from Bailli Provincial de Mid-Atlantic John Fannin conveying his holiday greetings and congratulations to Bailli Mazza and the bailliage on a very successful year in the finest traditions of the Chaîne.
The ceremony continued with the elevation of Pat Carroll to Vice Conseiller Gastronomique and Marcus Repp to Maître Restaurateur. Michael McHenry, the bailliage’s outgoing Gastronomique, was presented with his Honoraire pin, marking his years of dedicated service in that role. Judy and Bertrand then presented the prestigious Bronze Medal of Honor, an award given to only one recipient each year, to Pat for his enthusiac work and contributions to the bailliage.
Judy presented Share the Chaîne pins to six confrères who were responsible for encouraging new members to join the organization – something particularly notable following a year with only virtual events. She further recognized Chevalier Robert Blanchard and Dame de la Chaîne Karen Blanchard with the bailliage’s own “gift of appreciation” – a bottle of Champagne from the bailliage’s cellar – to thank them for their steadfast support and efforts to expand membership during the pandemic. Before concluding the ceremonies, Judy introduced and welcomed three members transferring into the bailliage or being reinstated as Chaîne members – Chevalier Eric Haun from the Bailliage of Chongqing, China; Maître Hôtelier Kevin Carter from the Périphérique Bailliage; and Maître Rôtisseur Roberto Donna, being reinstated after a 21 year hiatus.
With the investitures and honors complete, the assembly returned to the Crystal Ballroom for a gala dinner prepared by the Willard’s Executive Chef, Maître Rôtisseur Luca de Marchis, Chef de Cuisine Gyo Santa, and Pastry Chef Sabri Uzun. The antipasto course – lightly seared sushi-grade tuna filled with foie gras mousse – was an inspired variation on the classic beef tournedos Rossini. Didier Dagueneau Pouilly-Fumé “Buisson Renard” 2016, with its citrus notes and herbaceous aromas, was a great partner to the luxurious dish.
Next was truffled caramelized onion velouté en croute with parmesan foam. Breaking through layers of crispy puff pastry, diners discovered a rich and velvety onion velouté. The soup was delicious on its own, but the chef’s presentation included an individual pitcher of parmesan cream that diners poured into the soup, elevating classic onion soup flavors to new heights.
The evening’s intermezzo was soursop sorbet with lime granité. Soursop is a tropical fruit with a flavor that’s been described a mix of mango, pineapple, and strawberry. The resulting sorbet was wonderfully creamy with an exotic taste, with the tart lime granite counterbalancing its slight sweetness. It nicely refreshed palates for the savory courses to come.
The dinner’s fish course — a napoleon of seared Dover sole and forestière mushrooms – was spectacular. The delicate taste and texture of the fish paired beautifully with the earthiness of the mushrooms. Both were served on a velouté of Jerusalem artichoke that added a creamy texture to the layered composition. The plate was finished with a tasty and colorful baby rainbow carrot salad. Domaine Jean-Claude Bachelet et Fils Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru “Les Macherelles” 2018 was an excellent match for this sophisticated course. Grapes have been grown in Chassagne-Montrachet since 1684 and vines for this wine’s chardonnay grapes are over eighty years old. Reflecting the regions clay and limestone soil and aged for 24 months in French oak barrels, it is a quintessential Burgundian wine.
The final savory course was a veal lover’s dream as the chef presented a duo of sous vide veal loin and braised veal cheeks, accompanied by lardon and roasted vegetables tourné. The tender loin was perfectly medium rare while the cheeks were meltingly tender and richly flavored. A red wine reduction enhanced both. Al dente vegetables were a colorful finishing touch to the plate. Château Cissac Cru Bourgeois 2010 was exceptional with the veal. This blend of 70% cabernet sauvignon, 22% merlot, and 8% petit verdot is aged for 18 months in 30% new oak barrels, creating a complex and expressive, yet still classic, Bordeaux.
Before dessert, Bertrand de Boutray, Stuart Goldberg, Judy Mazza, François Dionot, and Pat Carroll donned the traditional robes and floppy hats of the Société Mondiale du Vin for the induction of ten new members. In this light-hearted ceremony, inductees recited the Mondiale oath and 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.
Pastry chef Sabri Uzun then delighted diners with the evening’s dessert – an earl grey chocolate mousse bar with candied kumquat, yuzu gelée, blood orange sorbet, and black sesame tuile. The presentation was gorgeous, with each element adding its unique flavor and texture – chocolaty, tart, tropical, citrusy, and crunchy – to the composition. A glass of Domaine des Baumard Quarts de Chaume Grand Cru 2012 paired wonderfully with all the flavors in the dessert. The Quarts de Chaume appellation in the Loire Valley has been recognized for sweet wines from the chenin blanc grape for over 1,000 years. For this wine, the grapes are harvested as late as possible to allow for plenty of the “noble rot” that intensifies the sweetness and flavor of the grapes. The winemaker uses no wood in the vinification or aging, creating a wine that is a pure expression of its terroir.
Bailli Judy Mazza and Vice Conseiller Culinaire François Dionot thanked Chef de Marchis and his team for the exceptional dinner and presented him with a velvet bag in which to keep his Chaîne ribbon and Vice Conseiller Gastronomique Pat Carroll presented the kitchen brigade and servers with Chaîne pins as a token of appreciation for their hard work and exemplary service.
The bailliage is already looking forward to returning to the Willard on December 13, 2022, to continue its tradition of enjoying the holiday season at this Washington institution.