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

Holiday Brunch Times Two

Greetings, Dames. The holiday season is nearly upon us and it’s time get together over a festive meal and catch up with one another. So that as many Dames as possible can participate, we’ve got not one, but TWO holiday brunch options this year: one in the city and one in the northern suburbs. Both events are the same date, Saturday, Dec. 1, and full details are below.

Whichever you choose, please bring cash and RSVP to Elizabeth Donovan at elizabethdonovan1076@gmail.com by Nov. 26, so we know how many to expect at each location.

In Chicago: Nico Osteria 1015 N. Rush Street, at Bellevue
Time: 11:30 a.m.
Cost: $35 per person includes food, tax and gratuity. Beverages can be purchased a la carte.
Parking: valet parking available

In Northbrook: Prairie Grass Café at 601 Skokie Blvd.
Time: 11:30 a.m.
Cost: $35 per person includes food, tax and gratuity. Beverages can be purchased à la carte.
Parking: there is a free parking lot for the restaurant


Hanging Out with Dame Dorie Greenspan

tP22OtGVQte7eCgew2v3KgDorie Greenspan is not only one of America’s most prolific food personalities and cookbook authors, she also is a long-time member of Les Dames d’Escoffier (New York Chapter). Her newest book, Everyday Dorie: The Way I Cook, dropped on Oct. 23, and during a promotional visit to Chicago, Dame Stacey Ballis hosted an afternoon reception with Dorie in between her packed schedule of public events on Nov. 1.

Stacey prepared an amazing array of treats from her own repertoire and from Dorie’s new book including Gougères, Tomato Chutney, and “Ricotta Spreadable,” a heavenly whipped ricotta cheese situation laced with herbs … delicious dolloped on the Gougéres! Thanks to H2Vino for providing Cava, and to our friends at Kerrygold, for providing an impressive array of delicious cheeses.

It was great fun to meet and talk to Dorie in such a casual atmosphere. These types of intimate gatherings with fellow Dames are part of what makes Les Dames so special.  Huge thanks to Stacey Ballis for hosting us and of course, to Dorie, for making time for Chicago Dames. Bon appetit!



LDEI Conference Inspires Chicago Dames

“Gray Skies, Bright Ideas” was the theme of the 31st annual Les Dames d’Escoffier International conference in Seattle, WA but as it turned out, it was bright skies and really bright ideas! With unusually warm and sunny weather, more than 250 Dames from around the world convened upon Seattle to see old friends, make new ones, learn, grow and become inspired.


Each year, attendees from Chicago talk about how stimulating and educational the conference is and how it energizes them to become more active in Les Dames to keep our chapter a leading one in LDEI. Some of the 15 Chicago Dames who attended this year shared their personal highlights from the Conference:

43756838_10156173201214690_6546221193572122624_nOne of Carla Williams’ most memorable moments was the pre-conference excursion, Traditions & Tastes of Seattle’s International Scene. “We visited the Tsue Chong Company to see the production process of their won ton wrappers, Asian egg noodles and rice noodles, and fortune cookies,” said Carla. “This family-owned business only recently switched to more modern mechanics, and much is still done by-hand. I specifically learned that rice noodles start with actual rice – not rice flour. They soak the rice to make a slurry first, and the result is a super smooth noodle.”

Julie Chernoff chose the Pike Place Market Foodie’s Paradise tour: “I took an insider’s tour of Pike Place Market, and it was fascinating. I had no idea that there was such an important social justice component to the market (daycare, low income senior living, a food bank, etc.), nor did I realize how enormous it truly is. The food tour company is a Dame-owned business, which made it even more meaningful.”

Liz Barrett opted for the Rustic & Elegant Countryside Culinary Adventure. “We visited majestic Snoqualmie Falls, one of the area’s most impressive natural wonders, and then on to beautiful Carnation Farms (yes, that Carnation, of the famous coffee creamer) for a tour, capped by a lunch featuring farm-grown food and paired with fabulous Washington wines,” said Liz. “But the highlight of the day was Château Saint Michelle in Woodinville, Washington’s oldest winery. We were treated to the “Sensory Sojourn” blind tasting hosted by Saint Michelle’s head of Wine Education, Dame Linda Chauncey. It was really fun to team up with fellow Dames from all over, working together to identify smells and tastes of so many beautiful wines.”

Portia Belloc- Lowndes’ “pinch me ” moment was not only witnessing her food hero, Marion Nestle, receive the Grande Dame Award but also having a conversation with her about food policy. “Having access to talk with someone like Marion Nestle – whom I’ve always held  in such high regard — was just amazing,” said Portia.

Sharon Olson, LDEI Treasurer, was excited about sharing the first annual Les Dames trend report, which everyone received on a clever wine-cork jump drive. If you would like a copy of the full Trend Report, please email info@ldei.org and it can be emailed to you.

Sharon also fondly recalled “dinner with Chicago Dames and one of our Legacy award winners, which reminds me of why Les Dames inspires us.”

Dining out, of course, is a popular topic, as Karen Levin picked dinner at Seattle hot spot Marjorie with a group of Chicago Dames as one of her highlights.

Veronica Hastings couldn’t decide which seminar was more fascinating. “Oysters: A Taste of Place,” featured Lissa James Monberg, a fifth-generation oyster farmer, and Shina Wysocki, a second generation oyster farmer, who demystified the origin of the oyster and talked about farming techniques and ecological issues. Dame Renee Erickson, chef and owner of Sea Creatures restaurants in Seattle, led the discussion and tasting of four local varieties.” “Each one had distinct flavors and textures,” said Veronica. “Fascinating!”

The “The Evolution of Rosé” seminar included a delightful history of rosé presented by Dame Katherine Cole, author of Rose All Day, and Dame Dawn Smith, sommelier at The Inn at Langley on Whidbey Island. Katherine’s extensive history of rosé coupled with Dawn’s fabulous knowledge of food and wine pairings and commentary during the tasting was a rosé lover’s dream.

And in order to protect the innocent, no names will be mentioned but many Dames raved about the “Cannabis Cuisine” seminar. Washington was the first state to legalize recreational use of marijuana in 2012, and we heard from an entrepreneur who started a popular line of edibles and a scientist studying the effects of marijuana on various conditions, from pain to mental health and brain acuity.

Toria Emas says she always looks forward to renewing friendships from across the pond and North America at conference. “The pre-conference tours are the best way to meet new Dames and learn about the local food scene,” said Toria. “The U.S. West Coast has a vibrant Asian immigrant community, and it was moving and uplifting to see how Seattle’s second- and third-generation Asians honor their elders by carrying on family businesses and traditions while innovating and updating procedures.”

The conference wrapped with an amazing preview of next year’s conference by Dame Sylvia Ganier channeling the inimitable Patsy Cline. Check out her amazing performance below, which will inspire you to plan your trip to Nashville next year, Oct. 24-27, 2019 for Nashville: Rhythm & Roots!

Dames Gather at Hot New Restaurant Twain to Talk Old-School Cookbooks

image5On Sept. 24, the Chicago Dames were treated to a discussion of crowd-sourced spiral-bound cookbooks at the new restaurant TWAIN in Logan Square. The owners are the husband- -and-wife team Chef Tim Graham and Sommelier and Mixologist Rebekah Graham, and they have an extensive collection of these cookbooks, which were often produced as fundraising vehicles for various organizations.

Dame Stacey Ballis moderated the conversation about why these books were produced, and why they are so special and important in the culinary history of this country.

The restaurant, a “love letter” to the foodways of the Midwest in general and Missouri specifically (where Tim grew up), was inspired in part by these cookbooks. “The hands that made these books, that cooked these recipes, when I read them — when I cook these dishes — my own hands are reaching back through time to touch those hands.”  Tim said.

image6Rebekah spoke about how the books influence her work developing cocktail recipes for the restaurant. “They often don’t have many beverages listed in the books, maybe a few non-alcoholic punches. But they have a lot of jam and jelly recipes, a lot of preserving.  Making jams and jellies is very similar to making syrups for flavoring cocktails, so that became my jumping-off point for some of the cocktails for the restaurant.”

Both Tim and Rebekah appreciate the joy that the books bring them. “Sometimes after a long day, we’ll make a cocktail and flip through one of the books and just laugh at some of the recipes.”  Acknowledging that many of the recipes are dated in a way that makes them less than appealing, culinarily, Tim nevertheless loves the “giggles” aspect of reading the books.  “We aren’t laughing at them, we’re giggling a bit, but in a loving way.  It’s like all those grandmothers from the past are tickling us.”

After the discussion, the team at Twain treated  guests to wine and cocktails, and some nibbles, including ham and cheese crostini on house baked rye, fish cakes with sour cream and dill, and an ethereal hand-churned vanilla ice cream that had been made while the discussion was occurring. Dames and guests were able to bring their own cookbooks to show, and anyone who donated a book to Tim and Rebekah’s collection received a gift certificate to spend at the restaurant on a future visit.

“These recipes have names attached to each one,” Tim said as the evening wound down. “What gets a signature? Art. Music. Poetry. Those are the things that people attach their name to in an important way. That is how I think of these recipes.” – By Stacey Ballis


Les Dames d’Escoffier Chicago Awards Scholarships to Nine Women

On Sept. 17, the Les Dames d’Escoffier Chicago Scholarship Committee awarded scholarships totaling $30,000 to nine outstanding women pursuing culinary arts and hospitality education programs at four area schools. The Scholarship Committee received and reviewed 17 applications, inviting 11 women for personal interviews conducted by co-chairs Patricia Cobe and Joan Holleran Driggs, and committee members Mary Aregoni, Lois Levine, Phaedra Ruffalo, and Judy Hevrdejs-King. These are the impressive women who will receive scholarships and were honored at a reception at the French Pastry School.


Anna Astashkina is enrolling in the Cake Program at the French Pastry School. She has given up a lot to get to this point, having emigrated from Russia with her husband so he could attend flight school. Now it is her turn to pursue her passion. She has a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, but wishes to expand her skills as a baker and receive professional status and credentials, eventually sharing her knowledge by teaching cooking, baking and nutrition.

Gianina Gomez Cabrera is pursuing her culinary education at Kendall College. She came here from Peru to get a degree that will allow her to open a business that promotes nutrition and healthful global food. She has already operated a gourmet deli, then brought her children to Chicago, and attended St. Augustine College to learn English and start her culinary education.

Nina DeBoer attends Joliet Jr. College in the culinary arts program. She is an impressive self-starter, launching her own bakery and attaining Serv-Safe certification at the age of 12. Since then, she has baked thousands of cupcakes, created wedding cakes and catered large events. Nina has volunteered extensively, using her culinary skills to teach orphans and church groups.

Khrystyna Medvedyk emigrated from Ukraine where she experienced economic hardship and political unrest. Working at the Wit Hotel, she now has valuable hospitality experience, but her dream is to become a professional pastry chef. She is enrolled at the French Pastry School with the goal of opening a woman-operated business specializing in desserts that are delicious and healthful.

Jennifer Morley attends College of DuPage and is studying pastry arts. She is a mother of three children, one of whom is autistic. She is committed to completing her associate’s degree and pursuing her passion in baking. She already has demonstrated her expertise through volunteer work and a paid position at Meijer, where she custom decorates cakes.

Kelly Oatman grew up in Bolivia and attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, where she earned an associate’s degree in culinary arts. Her true love, however, is baking and she is eager to extend her education one more year to get her certificate from the French Pastry School.

Ivry Radford is attending the pastry arts program at theCollege of DuPage, graduating in 2020. She has established a home-based bakery business called Ivry’s Delights that she wishes to expand into a storefront. Ivry had to withdraw from college when her son suffered a medical emergency, and had the motivation to re-enroll and continue her studies.

Mary Grace Go Steinbach  Grace moved here from the Philippines, where she worked as a data processor. She enrolled in the College of DuPage to earn an associate’s degree in culinary arts with the goal of expanding her food and wine expertise and eventually teaching. She already has a Master’s Degree in Environmental Studies, which deepened her knowledge of sustainability, the slow food movement and organic farming.

Leah Tibbs Leah decided to forge a new path into pastry arts. Over the last three years, with her passion for baking, she created a social media presence and website, connected with other women bakers and found a mentor. She works at Luxury Cake Company and has enrolled in the French Pastry School to get her professional credentials.

Huge thanks to the committee and to The French Pastry School for hosting a beautiful and delicious celebration of these outstanding scholarship recipients!