Although there were more actual differences between our dinner party, than similarities with ‘Babette’s Feast,’ I could not help thinking, as the party unfurled, that I was experiencing something that was extremely memorable and that would remain in my memory banks for years to come. Our youngest son, Mikey, with help from his fiancée Diana, put together a dinner for a special grouping of people.
We had invited our long-time friend Jack and his partner Dave, Jack and his wife Carolyn, and CC and Tony. The first Jack is a family friend of Mary Kay’s who became my friend as well in the 70s when we would pick him up at OSU on our way home from Ohio University. He was about a few years behind us chronologically and was doing a landscape architecture degree there. He was one of our groomsmen when we got married. We kind of kept up at least knowing how Jack and his siblings were doing as long as his parents were alive, but when his mom passed away, we went to the wake and were introduced to Dave, a wonderful guy in his own right.
Jack and Carolyn are longtime friends, fellow students of MK’s at the University of Illinois all three studied German there together. When MK and I were first married and living in the Chicago area, MK ran into them both when on an interview for a teaching job. She saw Carolyn in the waiting room and assumed that she was waiting for the interview. As it happened, Carolyn was waiting for Jack. MK had no idea that, as we used to say, that there were even an ‘item.’ They have been married as long as we have. In the early years, despite the distance between us, being in different parts of the Chicago area, Jack and Carolyn and their two sons paralleled our family growth, they had their Brian a bit before our Christian was born. Distance kind of got the better of us all for a few of the growth years of all our boys (they had two, we had three), but when we got back together at any moment, it was just as if we had never been apart. True friendship is what it is. Since getting back together après kids at home, we have even managed to work in a trip to Napa with them. It was a great trip, the only downside was the unfortunate choice of B&B on our part, which was so bad it made the situation laughable, and that is what the Koerners and Dennys do best, laugh!
CC and Tony are such good friends, friends due to MK and CC working at Lake Forest High School together. We have been going with them to Stratford for about ten years together and we never cease to have anything but a splendid time. They are more often than not our theatre partners in the Chicago area. We were so disheartened to find that they could not make our dinner party as Tony was feeling out of sorts. We had so much fun; we know that it would only have been magnified by CC and Tony being on the scene.
Mikey, of ‘Chez Mikey,’ is one of our three sons, the youngest, and the most focused ‘foodie’ of the group. He apprenticed his cooking and submitted to influences of Italian (from MK and her mom), French and Hungarian from me, and American cuisine from all of us. He has a degree in Geology from my alma mater, Ohio University, and is a climber as well as so many other things. He and I had always talked about future jobs and I was reluctant to give my okay to going to Culinary School before college. I was also concerned about a restaurant job turning a passion into a drudge. He actually listened to us and got his degree. His food experiences are very interesting, being the worst eater MK and I had out of the three boys, MK decided to open him up to cooking and although he spent much of his youth only eating pasta, he started eating other things that he started making. He ‘interned’ in pasta making with MK and Nana (his Italian grandmother), did a stint at EJ’s Place, thanks to our neighbors, the Gravers, learned salad production there, and ended up in an Artisanal Restaurant as a sous-chef in Redlands California (The Farm), after starting out in California as a Retirement Home chef. Add into his training that we took him to France one year that my two weeks in Strasbourg was at a bakery in Hoerdt belonging to the Musslin Family. Michael learned in two short weeks about tarte flambée, sorbet making, croissants, and other French pastry and breads. It made an indelible impression on him and from afar, the Musslin family has watched Michael take what he learned and use it. Laurent Kustner is now an award winning baker there.
Mike is a real estate agent with Diana and they also now have their special service of creating fine dining within the home. Mike has a passion for food that has never lessened, the ‘Diana connection’ is now adding Korean and Asian to his culinary influences.
They were both supposed to be at our house for the dinner party but Diana needed to stay in our oldest son’s home with the dog as Lincoln has been out of sorts while his family is out of town. They are housesitting.
Dave brought an incredible selection of wines from his wine cave, bought at Trader Joe’s, where he works. I had prepared a wine list, I put it aside, and we started out with a Crémant de Touraine (that we had selected at Binny’s. I let Dave take over and although we handled the white wine, Dave did one heck of a job with the reds.
The weather was rotten in the morning, hot and heavy in the sweltering range, but by evening it, along with the food and company, was perfect.
Mike knows I am really odd and not a huge seafood fan but his bruschetta topped with soft shell crab changed my whole opinion of that food. He prepared the most luscious chicken dish sous vide and had unreal sides of white rice (made in an Asian rice maker) and ‘Texas caviar,’ made with chick peas and corn, and topped it off with great coffee to go with the delicious Gênoise cake made with a berry sauce and topped with sour cherries and fresh currant from our garden.
Reading this will not give the reader the intensely wonderful, warm feeling that we all had as the evening progressed. Jack (of Jack and Dave) had met Jack and Carolyn years ago, so this was a reunion of sorts. We laughed, we shared stories, we talked wine, we talked Napa, we talked of family, and we talked of pain and moments of extreme happiness. It was beautiful and I hope we can do this again.
Real friendship is something that cannot be taken for granted. ‘Babette’s Feast,’ a great movie of a ‘food awakening’ of bored Danes by a French refugee of the Franco-Prussian war was not what this dinner was all about. It was, however, a fabulous event where food made by passion, creativity, and love and high quality ingredients served as a base for a special reunion with a ‘breaking of bread’ that is a wonderful reminder of how life should be.