Les Dames d'Escoffier Chicago

Post – North Shore Distillery Tour & Lunch

January 29 – The Dames’ recent Sunday jaunt to North Shore Distillery in Green Oaks was both informative and tasty — the best kind of program! Owner Sonja Kassebaum graciously welcomed us to their new facility, which had previously housed a kitchen design space and warehouse, with coffee and pastries from a local bakery. The non-operative kitchen spaces have been repurposed into a spacious tasting room, complete with expansive wood cocktail bar, cocktail lounge, working demo kitchen and retail store; the warehouse, connected to the tasting rooms by a long hallway, now houses the distillery and packaging operations, overseen by Sonja’s charming husband, Derek, a chemical engineer turned liquor alchemist. NS Distillery is a small-batch distillery, and everything is done by hand, including bottling, labeling and packaging.


The distillery is also home to social media darling Ethel the Still (check out her Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds), a hardworking German import from the Arnold Holstein company. Named both for ethyl alcohol and Sonja’s grandmother, this small-scale still pumps out a lot of product. As we watched and listened, Derek shared stories about the process of making gin, even as he was emptying enormous glass jugs of the clear spirit into a large plastic storage barrel. We had an opportunity to mix a wee bit of our own gin; Derek had set aside some small shot glasses of gin distilled with only juniper berries (that’s what makes a gin a gin, by definition), along with droppers of distilled herbs and spices that they use in their Distiller’s Gin No. 6 (including angelica, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander and lemon). We played at this botanical bingo, each person adding a few drops of what flavors appealed to create our own blend. At 90 proof, and with cocktails and lunch still to come, a sip was the perfect palate cleanser. We also learned that while smaller craft distilleries infuse their alcohol with actual botanicals, high-volume commercial brands use flavoring.


We returned to the tasting rooms, where Sonja awaited, along with a lovely lunch of squash soup, chicken salad and a green salad with blue cheese and candied nuts. Sonja mixed several of their popular cocktails, including an herb-forward Norwegian Spring, made with their Aquavit Private Reserve, simple syrup, fresh lime juice, dill and cucumber. It was refreshing and light, as was the Gin Smash, made with Distiller’s Gin No.11.


It was a lovely afternoon, albeit a bit tipsy! This spot is definitely worth a visit, especially if you’re on the North Shore.


Event Information

Evening at City Olive

Dame Karen Rose shared her story of City Olive, the art of tasting olive oil, and her exquisite selection of the finest estate bottled extra virgin olive oils. Along with her extensive olive oil offerings, Karen also has a selection of locally made artisan products along with responsibly sourced specialty foods. Olives (oh the olives!), Vinegars, Tapenades, Spices, Pastas, and Mustards from around the world complete Karen’s food boutique. 

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Ask the Chef at Green City Market

Have you ever been so excited at the farmer’s market that you bought more than you knew how to cook? You’re not alone! Learn from Chicago’s best chefs and cooks at the Green City Market’s Ask the Chef booth.

This summer Chicago Dames Polly Peters, Mary Kay Gill and Jessica Ellington delighted Lincoln Park Green City Market shoppers with cooking tips, recipes, demos and samples. Market goers left feeling inspired and ready to cook or bake with their latest market haul!

Be on the look out for more opportunities to Ask the Chef thru October!


Green Tables Committee Cooks Up Video Lessons for Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago

Programming at the Pedersen-McCormick Boys & Girls Club (PMBGC) of Chicago is one of our Chapter’s legacy affiliations. It is the only Club within the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago (BGCC) to offer after-school and summer cooking classes, and Chicago’s Dames have been instructors for more than 15 years.

Earlier this year, Dame Mary Abbott Hess, through her trust, created a restricted fund to ensure ongoing support of this important life-skills programming at the PMBG. The Green Tables Committee helped recruit and hire two part-time instructors to teach basic cooking skills in hands-on 90-minute classes focusing on nutritious foods to groups of 15 club members, ages 8 to 11.

The grant also provides funding for an organic garden and garden education for club members of all ages, and the Chicago Chapter also approved a grant of $3,700 to purchase garden tools and equipment for the Club and sponsor two family garden nights and gardening-related field trips for club members.

And then the Covid 19 pandemic hit. The Clubs had to temporarily close and chapter funding was put on hold. Nevertheless, we persisted!

Pivoting to Meet the Need
We asked the PMBGC if we could provide video cooking lessons, as Club programming moved online. The plan was to expand our program to members of all 20+ clubs in Chicago.Our goal was to teach basic cooking skills with a focus on nutritious, economical foods in a way that would appeal to girls and boys from diverse cultures while requiring minimal kitchen equipment. Dame Raeanne Sarazen offered to present the lessons in her home kitchen with a videographer colleague of Mary’s, Joe Azar who volunteered to shoot and edit the lessons. It all came together perfectly! Check out the first two lessons on our YouTube Channel here!

Our first two videos were presented to Dr. Vicki Lee, Chief Academic Officer of BGGC in August, who said the videos and related material would be shared on BGGC’s Facebook and Instagram pages and included in their virtual education programming. For those without computer access, print materials will be distributed in the next Club Home Kit delivery.

“I am truly grateful to the team at LDE for committing such time and talent to create these instructional cooking videos for our boys and girls,” wrote Mimi LeClair, BGCC President and CEO. “They will reach a wide group, helping over 1,600 Club members who participate in our Virtual Clubs to build the basic cooking skills they will carry with them throughout their lives.”

Added Holly Allen, BGCC’s VP of External Affairs, “Thank you so much for the videos! What a great instructional tool for our kids! It’s clear how much time, effort and thoughtfulness went into creating these tutorials. Thank you again for always going above and beyond for our young people!”

While this project was developed for Boys & Girls Club of Chicago, the Green Tables Committee is excited the possibility of sharing the videos with other Boys & Girls Clubs across the nation and with other Les Dames chapters!




Exploring the Art of Wine & Cheese Pairing w/ Chicago & New England Dames

What makes a perfect pairing of cheese and wine? How do we take the guess work out of shopping for them when faced with so many choices? Join us as we explore style, flavor, texture, body, aroma, and complexity in an educational forum that will tickle the fancy of the wine and cheese lovers among us!

Uniquely designed to engage members from the New England and  Chicago Dames Chapters and guests, we will spend an hour soaking up the knowledge of four talented women. Dame Portia Belloc Lowndes, President of the LDEI Chicago Chapter, will moderate our experts who have paired four distinctive cheese styles with four varietal wines. We will learn how to identify our own personal taste preferences and effectively communicate those preferences with wine and cheese purveyors.

This virtual event is open to Dames ($10) and non-members ($15) with all proceeds going to fundraising efforts of the Chicago and New England Chapters. Purchase of wine and cheese are optional.  Our sommeliers have chosen wines that should be easy to procure and the four cheese selections can be purchased online through Jasper Hill, if you have difficulty sourcing them locally.  (A “shopping list” will be emailed to participants on April 12.)

You can choose your level of participation, selecting one wine and one cheese or all four pairings.  If you feel comfortable you canhost this event in your home, with family and friends to enjoy multiple selections!

Date:   Tuesday, April 27,
Time:   Chicago Dames:  5:30 PM Central Time,
New England Dames:  6:30 PM Eastern Time
Place:  Online (Zoom)
Cost:  $10 for LDEI Members, $15 for Non-Members
Register to Purchase Zoom Link here

Panel of Speakers

Dame Susan Fallon Brennan is a certified cheese professional with a background in the culinary and pastry arts.  Susan has worked in such high end New York restaurants as Eleven Madison Park and Daniel.  Her focus switched to cheese while working for four years at the Kensington Whole Foods in London, England. Once stateside, Susan continued her work in the cheese industry as a sales representative at Seacrest Foods International. She is on the board of the Massachusetts Cheese Guild and became a New England Dame in 2019, currently serving on their Board.

Dame Rebekah Graham experienced her first great wine in 1997. In a single mesmerizing sip, a new direction had been set in her life. Since then she has spent decades pursuing acontinually broadening passion in wine, beer, spirits and service.  After a few years as an assistant sommelier in New Mexico and at Chicago’s famed Pump Room, Rebekah became the Wine Coordinator at the Publican in Chicago. In the years since she has developed beverage programs for Citrine in Oak Park and her own restaurant, Twain, in Chicago.

Katie Losito is the Vice President of Sales & Marketing for Jasper Hill Farm—a working dairy farm with an on-site creamery and underground aging facility in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.  There, she spends most of her days building and managing a growing sales team while working on pairings—getting the right cheese to the right customer.  With 15 years of sales experience across several industries, including television, global transportation, and food and beverage, Katie specializes in sales operations and improving team product knowledge.

Dame Jenni Wagoner is Sommelier and Wine Director for Michelin-starred Sepia and Proxi in West Loop, Chicago. Jenni crafts the wine lists for both restaurants leading to recognition for Sepia as one of “America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants” by Wine Enthusiast magazine. Jenni is a huge supporter of female winemakers and female-owned wineries, featuring a fully women-led list at Proxi.

A Sunday Afternoon at Opus One Winery

A Tasting of Opus One and Overture with Winemaker Michael Silacci 

Opus One is is arguably one of the most heralded and iconic wines in all of Napa Valley and the world. It started as a collaboration between California wine legend Robert Mondavi and French wine legend Baron Philippe de Rothschild. Dame Gina Voci, long-time Central States Division sales manager for Opus One wines, arranged a priceless Opus One experience that you can now enjoy via video link from the comfort of your own couch.

Michael Silacci didn’t know what he wanted to be when he grew up. So he took a couple of years to travel through Asia and Europe to window-shop for a profession. When he arrived in France, his knowledge of French was limited to “bon voyage”. Someone suggested that if he wanted to eat well, learn to speak French, and earn some francs, he should harvest grapes. Two-hour lunches in the vineyard and fine wine were all it took to lead him to a career in winemaking and a life spent walking among the vines.

On Sunday afternoon, Feb. 28, Michael joined us and talked about what it takes to produce an iconic internationally known wine, the impact of organic and carbon farming, meticulous winemaking, environmental stewardship, legacy and his unique philosophy of team management. Following the discussion and tasting, remain online for a virtual tour of the recently opened Partners’ Room for visitors, featuring a discussion of newly acquired curated works of wine-related art.

To learn more about Opus One, click here

About Michael Silacci: Assuming full responsibility for all aspects of vineyard management and winemaking, Michael was named Winemaker at Opus One in May 2003.  He has been at Opus One since March of 2001, first serving as Director of Viticulture and Enology. He is also currently serving as President of the Napa Valley Grapegrowers association.

Prior to his current appointment, Michael spent six years as winemaker at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, one year as winemaker at King Estate in Oregon, and six years at Beaulieu Vineyard as enologist and viticulturist. He has also made wine in France and Chile. He holds a master’s degree in viticulture from U.C. Davis in addition to under-graduate degrees in enology and viticulture from U.C. Davis and the Université de Bordeaux.

Embracing a holistic vision of winegrowing as the ultimate expression of terroir, Michael ensures that the connection between viticulture and winemaking at Opus One is seamless, reflecting the philosophy of founders Baron Philippe de Rothschild and Robert Mondavi.