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

Welcome to Five New Dames d’Escoffier!

We are thrilled to welcome five stellar new Dames to the Chicago chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier! These new members were introduced at the Annual Dinner and Business Meeting on Monday, June 11. We look forward to getting to know them and are excited about the contributions they will make to enhance our chapter. Welcome!

Chang-1-1080x580Belinda Chang, sommelier and brand advocate, Belinda Chang LLC. Sponsored by Ina Pinkney and Rita Jammet (New York City Chapter).



Duncan.forbes.com-1200x900Katherine Duncan, proprietor and chocolatier at Katherine Anne Confections. Sponsored by Melissa Yen and Carla Williams.



GregoryLaura Gregory, Store Director at Heinen’s Grocery Store in Glenview. Sponsored by Judith Dunbar Hines and Shannon Kinsella.



Kim-KirchherrKim Kirchherr, health and well-being advisor at Independent Grocers Alliance (IGA). Sponsored by Nancy Siler and Lois Levine.



Lalley_Heather Lalley, editor and reporter at Winsight/Restaurant Business. Sponsored by Patricia Cobe and Joan Driggs.

Dames Enjoy 18th Summer Picnic at Ravinia

Dame Karen Levin organized a delightful picnic evening at Ravinia on Sunday, July 8, Dames (and Dudes!) gathered at Karen’s home before walking over to the park, where Karen provided margaritas and Dame Maria Concannon served her famous guacamole. As blues legends Buddy Guy and Johnny Lang provided the background tunes, everyone enjoyed potluck picnic fare and caught up on summer doings.

Dames – and Dudes – Enjoy a Heated Bocce Competition, Cocktails & Dinner

It was a heated – and humid! – battle on the bocce courts, as 20 Dames gathered in River Forest on Sunday, July 15 for the annual “Dames Who Roll” event. Hosted by Dame Gina Voci and husband Ed, this year’s theme – France versus Italy — made for an extra fun and delicious event. Guests were greeted by a Franco-Italian buffet of hors d’oeuvres including rich yet refreshing vichysoisse “shots,” a gorgeous array of cheese and charcuterie, pan bagnat, and bruschetta, along with  French, Italian and American takes on the famous Negroni cocktail. And of course, its not a summer party without rosé!

Both Dames and Dudes flung the bocce balls with gusto and sometimes enviable precision! Two teams of four finally came head to head in the finals. At stake: bragging rights and bottles of Ovation wine from Opus One! The ultimate champions: Julie and Josh Chernoff, Bill Thurmond and Francesca Voci. In proud second place: Susan Weller, Michael Donnelly, Susan Szymanski and Liz Barrett.

After the heated battle (it was a steamy afternoon!), the group returned to the Vocis’ beautiful home for a potluck dinner, featuring more French and Italian specialties.

The table was stuffed with dishes — quiche, beef tenderloin, roasted lemon chicken, orecchiette with sausage and rapini, fennel and arugula salad, summer tomatoes and burrata, ratatouille and more. But room had to be saved for the tempting array of desserts, from blueberry tarts and crostatas to cakes. Our hostess with the mostest, Gina, and husband Ed, kept glasses filled and conversation flowing all night long in their gorgeous backyard and gardens. Special thanks to Dame Toria Emas for taking so many fun photos!

This is one of the most delightful events of the year, and we extend huge thanks to the Vocis and everyone who prepared such an impressive feast! Cheers, Santé and Salut!

Ina Pinkney Named Dame of Distinction

Each year, the board of Les Dames d’Escoffier Chicago selects one member for an important lifetime achievement award – the Dame of Distinction honor. This member is one who has achieved excellence in her career and made outstanding contributions to the chapter.   

unnamedThis year, we are extremely proud to present Dame Ina Pinkney with the Dame of Distinction Award.

The award was presented at the annual business meeting and dinner of the Chicago chapter on Monday, June 11 by Dame Jennifer Bucko Lamplough, whose words are worthy of sharing verbatim, here:

The Breakfast Queen. Baker. Chef, Entrepreneur. Polio survivor and advocate. Champion of female culinary professionals. Captivating speaker and writer. Chicago culinary legend.

These are just a few ways to describe Dame Ina Pinkney. Aside from Ina’s long-standing presence in the Chicago food community, she is consistently a positive presence in Les Dames d’Escoffier and wonderful advocate of the organization for new and prospective members.

Ina became a member in 1985, sponsored by Elaine Sherman. She was on the board of directors in 1991 when Dame Nancy Brussat was president (the first time) and she stayed on for another two years as program chair when Dame Toria Emas was president.

Ina has worked on every Les Dames fundraising event during her time as a member, all while running her many business ventures including The Dessert Kitchen Ltd. and her renowned restaurant, Ina’s Kitchen, which quickly became Chicago’s premier breakfast restaurant. Ina’s Kitchen evolved into INA’S, an American Restaurant, serving not only breakfast, but also lunch and dinner. Ina was a true pioneer, establishing one of the first restaurants in what is now the restaurant mecca of Chicago – the West Loop.

In 2013, Ina made the decision to close her eponymous restaurant after 33 years in business. But before doing so, she authored a book entitled Ina’s Kitchen: Memories and Recipes from the Breakfast Queen that sold as fast as her famous Heavenly Hots did every morning at her restaurant.

Most recently, Ina served on the LDE Chicago board of directors again under President Veronica Hastings, and she recruited the group of young women chefs who created the amazing dinner at our most recent fundraiser, “Culinarium” in April.

Ina continues to work tirelessly in the culinary community to encourage and mentor young, up-and-coming chefs and restaurant owners. Never one to rest on her laurels, Ina recently celebrated four years as a columnist with the Chicago Tribune, publishing her monthly “Breakfast with Ina” stories, sharing new places to enjoy the most important meal of the day.

Ina also donates countless hours to Rotary Club and its mission to help eradicate polio, serving as a national and local ambassador and speaker. In fact, Rotary Club named Ina a top influencer in 2017 for her efforts to help eradicate polio.

Over the years, Ina also has been a leader in the effort to ban artificial trans fats in food, and she also led the group the supported the smoking ban in Chicago (which went into effect in 2006). She also created a “green” purchasing co-op for restaurants in Chicago, helping the industry become more sustainable.

On top of all this, Ina has been a guest chef, lecturer, culinary judge, emcee, keynote speaker as well as the subject of numerous national and local articles in print, online and on TV and radio.

What we are most proud to call her though, is our friend, and our Dame of Distinction for 2018. Thank you, Ina, for your dedication to the culinary and hospitality industries, to our chapter and for making a difference in our community. Congratulations!

Dames Who Read: Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine

From Dame Judith Dunbar-Hines

June’s Dames Who Read book was EIGHT FLAVORS The Untold Story of American Cuisine by Sarah Lohman. Read More