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

Dames Who Read Choose “Dirt” by Bill Buford for January

You may know Bill Buford’s writing from his previous book, “Heat,” or from his years as editor of The New Yorker. Now go along for the ride as he recounts his adventures – and misadventures – when he, spontaneously packs up his knives and his family and moves to France to spend time in culinary school and restaurant kitchens.

The subtitle says it all: “Adventures in Lyon as a Chef-in-Training, Father and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking.”

Those adventures may make you long for a nice long vacation in France, one of the things we’ve had to forego this year.  But the foods and markets written about in the book will certainly have your taste buds longing for a nice French meal. No recipes here, but good descriptions that can inspire you in your own kitchen. Besides being delicious, it’s a good read!

So settle in for a long winter’s spell and enjoy the trip, even if it must be from your favorite chair!

AN IMPORTANT NOTE:  When you are buying this book, be sure you purchase “DIRT” by Bill Buford, and not another book by a similar title (two of which were recently released).

Date:  Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021Time:  6 – 8  PM
Where:  Zoom from your favorite location
Who:  Open to Dames and guests
Cost:  Free,
but you must register to receive your Zoom link; Register  here

Welcome Our New Dames for 2020!

We are thrilled to welcome six new Dames into the Class of 2020! Despite the pandemic, we were not about to let these all-star women miss their moment to join the most dynamic and fulfilling organization of women! Get to know them below, and then join us on Monday, Nov. 2 at 6:30 p.m. on Zoom when we’ll introduce them and raise a glass to growing our chapter.

Christine Cikowski
is chef and co-owner of Honey Butter Fried Chicken. A graduate of Kendall College culinary school, Christine and business partner Josh Kulp launched Sunday Dinner Club in 2005, at the height of the “underground dining” trend. It was a happy accident at one SDC dinner when fried chicken and honey butter collided in the kitchen and the phenomenon of Honey Butter Chicken was hatched. Christine and Josh have been pioneers in how they operate their business, paying employees a living wage, paid parental leave and health insurance.

Molly Currey is  the CMO of What If Syndicate, a growing restaurant group headquartered in Chicago that includes Maple & Ash and etta, and soon, Monarch, Kessaku and Celestina.  I run the marketing team that spans all our restaurants. Until recently, I was always on the agency side serving hospitality and restaurant clients.  From launching the Elysian Hotel to breaking ground for Nobu, I’ve worked with some amazingly creative people in the service industry.  Beyond my day job with the What If Syndicate restaurant group, I own a pop-up/private restaurant space called Saint Emeric in our restored church home.  In my spare time, when I’m not chasing down my two teenagers, I enjoy hunting for weird antiques to fill our home.  My husband, Jim and I also love taking motorcycle road trips and visiting whatever Atlas Obscura experience/location we can find!

Kristine Holtz is a foodservice professional with more than 25 years of experience. As a former Senior Vice President leading the Menu Inspirations Division at HJ Heinz, CEO of Market Day, and now the CEO of the Cornerstone Foodservice Group (Spring USA, LloydPans, Astra Manufacturing), Kristine has helped develop leading products and solutions across many areas of foodservice. Today, Kristine works alongside and advises leading brands on their foodservice operations and shares industry insights to help organizations create guest-centered and profitable dining experiences.

Lindsay Navama is a cookbook author (“Hungry for Harbor Country”) and creator of Third Coast Kitchen.com, a culinary and lifestyle website. While she juggles her 11-month-old, Stella, Lindsay is also returning to freelance food writing. She started her first business venture, Cookies Couture in Los Angeles, while waitressing to make ends meet. She is also an experienced recipe developer, private chef, and food TV host.

Tigist Reda is chef and owner of Demera Ethiopian Restaurant in Uptown. Tigist was born and raised in Ethiopia and has lived in Chicago for 20+ years. She learned the secrets of traditional Ethiopian cuisine from the elder women in her family. Tigist has a passion for entertaining and sharing her culture with guests, and she opened Demera in 2007.Tigist loves nothing more than introducing people to Ethiopiant fare, which is focused on communal, family meals eaten with hands among family and friends. Demera has been recognized with consistently excellent reviews in Chicago media since it opened.

Jennifer Wagoner is Sommelier and Beverage Director for Sepia and Proxi restaurants. Jenni crafts the wine lists 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 women winmekaers and women-owned wineries, featuring many on the wine lists at both restaurants.  Jenni has 17 years in hospitality and restaurants, starting her career in Manhatten, then Miami and finally returning to her Midwestern roots in 2017. She is routinely called on by wine consortiums from around the globe to serve as ambassador and educator, including the Consorzio of Prosecco Superiore DOCG and


Zooming Through Farm & Kitchen

By Carol Mighton Haddix

The day was squinting-ly sunny, warm…delightful. But for one group of Dames and guests, the sensory input instead came through a computer screen. We were participating in a Virtual Farm Tour & Cooking Demo on Aug. 9 through the magic of Zoom. Dames Jeanne Nolan, Sarah Stegner, and Portia Belloc Lowndes led the tour and class. A different take on the farm-to-table trend, the event was open to the public, attracting 59 participants, and served as a fundraiser for Green City Market’s Edible Garden Project, which helps feed needy Chicagoans during the pandemic.

Portia kicked off the event by introducing Dame Mary Kay Gill, who gave an overview of Les Dames, and described our local Green Tables initiatives, which includes supporting the Edible Garden at Green City Market. Then we Zoomed straight into Sarah’s kitchen at her Prairie Grass Café in Northbrook. Earlier, participants had the opportunity to pick up prepped ingredients at Prairie Grass Café and cook along with Sara at home. She started with fresh, wild Alaskan cod fillets that she coated with egg, oat flour and bread crumbs before sauteeing.

“It’s all about being instinctual in the kitchen, not just following a recipe,” Sarah said. She fried the fish in clarified butter for added flavor. “Control the temperature in frying,” she cautioned; if the fish is browning too quickly, turn down the heat to give it time to cook through.”

We then zoomed to Jeanne Nolan at her Middlefork Farm in Northfield, where she runs The Organic Gardener, which helps Chicagoans set up and maintain produce gardens. She took us on a tour that included herbs (“I’m really liking the lemon verbena right now,” she said), edible flowers such as nasturtium, plus leeks, fennel, eggplant, corn, and many types of tomatoes (“my favorite is an orange cherry tomato called jaune flame.”)

Around the gardens, Jeanne has planted flowers to help fight insect invasions. “We call it our Border Patrol,” she laughed. The blackberries are coming in now, she showed us, but the orchard’s cherry trees are done for the season. Nearby, an alpaca grazed in a pasture, and the farm’s two cute goats, Chocolate and Olive, came out for a visit.

Kale from the farm starred in the next dish Sarah demonstrated: a wilted kale salad with cherry tomatoes, leeks, corn, and grated cheese that is tossed with a pungently good pecan/herb pesto. “This is the kind of dish that can change with the seasons,” Sarah said. “Use whichever greens, herbs and vegetables are in season.” (See recipe below.)

For the grand finale, Portia mixed up a cooling cucumber Mezcal cocktail, using one of Jeanne’s father’s products, La Luna Mezcal from Mexico. She made a sugar syrup with equal parts sugar and water, and sliced cucumbers, fresh ginger and mint. It’s easily stored in the fridge, she said, for up to a week. She then mixed two ounces of that syrup with two ounces Mezcal in a cocktail glass and topped it off with seltzer water and garnishes of lemon grass, lime and mint. After that colorful vision, we all were ready to Zoom to cocktail hour, cook up some kale — and toast our fabulous tour leaders!

Left: The finished dish, courtesy of Dame Stacey Ballis


Warm kale, leek, tomato, and corn salad with pesto

4-6 servings


2 cups basil, parsley or a mix of herbs

1/2 cup toasted pecans

½ cup grated cheese, such as Pleasant Ridge Reserve or Parmesan

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Freshly ground pepper to taste


2 tablespoons clarified butter or olive oil

2 cups torn kale

1 cup julienned leeks

Salt, pepper to taste

2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half

½ cup fresh corn kernels

2 tablespoons grated cheese, such as Pleasant Ridge Reserve or Parmesan

1.For pesto, place herbs, pecans, cheese, oil, and pepper in food processor or blender. Process until chopped fine. Set aside.

2.For salad, heat olive oil in 10-12-inch sauté pan over medium high heat. Add kale; cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Remove kale to a bowl; set aside.

3.Add more olive oil to pan if needed. Add leeks; cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add tomatoes; cook 3-4 minutes. Stir in the corn, kale and pesto. Simmer over low heat until heated through. Sprinkle with cheese.

Dames Wine School Launches Feb. 12

unnamed-13Welcome to the Dames Wine School and the first in series of five classes! Do you like wine, but don’t know your chard from your chenin? Do terms like tannin, body and balance confuse you? Do you find yourself overwhelmed in a wine store, gazing at thousands of labels, not knowing where to begin?

Industry professionals Dame Gina Voci and Dame Rebekah Graham will reveal all, through a tasting of eight wines, focusing on four key components  — tannin, acid, alcohol and sugar.

This is about learning about wine through tasting. You’ll learn how to identify aromas and flavors, understand what balance means, and how to describe wine. You’ll figure out your own palate as we learn about popular wine styles and grape varietals.  We’ll even touch on deciphering a wine list and how to talk to a sommelier.

When: Wed., Feb. 12, from 6:30 to 8:30 PM at
Where: Birch Road Cellar, 1113 W. Armitage Ave. Chicago (metered street parking available)
Member tickets: $35; non-member tickets: $45 Get tickets here 
Limited to 12 attendees. All are welcome including significant others, friends, & prospective Dames. Sign up early to reserve your seat.
(Note: This is not a dinner or food/wine pairing; a light offering of cheese and crackers will be provided)

From Spark to Stores: Bringing a Singular Idea to Market

unnamed-21Have you ever had a tightly focused niche idea that just might be worth pursuing?  Nearly everyone has had that one idea that feels like it fills a hole in the marketplace. But how do you take it from idea to reality? That entrepreneurial spirit runs in the Lock family.

Dame Stephanie Lock is the founder of Ready to Roll Dough, a super-premium pastry crust business. Her sweet and savory organic all-butter crusts are sold at Whole Foods Markets across Chicago.

Stephanie’s drive was instilled in her by her mom, Joyce Lock, who is the creator of the popular “Foodie Fight” trivia game. We will hear their stories in this conversation about what it means to have an idea for a single, focused product and what it takes to get that idea into a marketable reality.

After the discussion, we’ll snack on some sweet and savory pies and play a few friendly rounds of Foodie Fight!  Just in time for the holidays, every ticket includes one disk of Ready to Roll Dough and your own Foodie Fight game!
When:  Sunday, November 17, 3-5:30 p.m.
Where:  The home of Dame Stacey Ballis, 2819 W Logan Blvd,  Chicago
Limited to 16 attendees
Tickets: $40 for Dames; $50 for non-members. This is an awesome event for guests! Get your tickets here.