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 Savor Indian Dinner & a Movie

49616279_2304629772882457_9026376537120702464_nA dozen Dames got comfy in Gina Voci’s cozy screening room (aka third-floor guest room with fancy big-screen TV!) on Sunday, Jan. 7 to watch “The 100-Foot Journey” accompanied by delicious snacks prepared by Dame Chandra Ram from her new cookbook, The Complete Indian Instant Pot Cookbook. The movie tells the story of a young Indian chef in France and his dramatic ascent to the top, so the pairing of Indian foods was perfect! Crispy samosas filled with peas and potato, Indian-spiced popcorn and papadams with delicious spicy chutney kept everyone munching throughout the movie. Lest we get thirsty, Gina provided a perfect array of wines to match the food. (The Vouvray paired especially well with the spicy Indian foods!)

49514471_2304629779549123_2130848195985539072_nAfter the movie, the group headed to the kitchen, where Chandra and Gina were putting the final touches on an Indian feast for dinner! We enjoyed lamb vindaloo sliders, chickpea chaat (chickpea salad with pomegranate, cucumber and crunchy fried Indian bits), basmati rice with cumin and preserved lemon and saag paneer (sauteed spinach and mustard greens with Indian fresh cheese).

Chandra shared how her own experience as the daughter of an Indian father and an Irish mother growing up in America,  informed her perceptions of Indian food. “Because of the way I grew up, I put a bit of an American spin on classic Indian recipes. So for example, lamb vindaloo turned into a riff on the southern pulled-pork sliders we all know and love — but with Indian flavors.”



Vietnamese New Year Wine Dinner Feb. 5

fullsizeoutput_103eThis year, you can celebrate the new year twice! Join us as we welcome 2019 as the Year of the Pig at a wine dinner celebrating the Vietnamese New Year, called Tet. This will be a delicious pop-up dinner featuring menu items from Dame Mary Aregoni’s acclaimed Vietnamese restaurant, Saigon Sisters. (Please note: the dinner will take place at Bang Chop (sister restaurant to Saigon Sisters) at 605 W. Lake St. in Chicago.)

Our Chicago “Dames Somms” (Veronica Hastings, Gina Voci, Kim Hack and Liz Barrett) will offer a selection of delicious and unexpected wines to enhance this traditional Vietnamese New Year’s feast. 

You will savor four courses including:

First Course: Goi Ga (chicken salad with cabbage and herbs) and Nem Cua (Imperial fried rice-paper crab rolls)

Second Course: Wagyu beef pho dumpling soup

Third Course: Thit Heo Kho (pork braised in coconut milk with caramelized egg, pickled vegetables and rice) and Bánh chúng (sticky rice in banana leaf with pork and yellow lentils)

Fourth Course: Mut (array of dried fruits, nuts, candied pineapple, coconut, star fruit and ginger)
The menu is gluten-free and vegetarian substitutions will be available upon request.

This is a great event for potential members, so feel free to invite a guest, but sign up quickly, as space is limited.

HOW: Sign up here
HOW MUCH: $75 per person (includes all food and wine)
WHEN: Tuesday, Feb. 5, 6:30 – 9 p.m.
WHERE: Bang Chop, 605 W. Lake Ave. 

There is street parking and Green & Pink Line CTA stop is a 2-minute walk (Clinton stop).

Hope to see you there!

Dames Who Read Head South with “The Best Cook in the World,” by Rick Bragg

Dames Who Read are taking another short winter trip to the South with our next book, Rick Bragg’s THE BEST COOK IN THE WORLD, Tales from My Momma’s Table

You will enjoy meeting Margaret Bragg, who does not own a single cookbook. She measures in “dabs” and “smidgens” and “tads” and “you know, hon, just some.” She cannot be pinned down on how long to bake corn bread –“about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the mysteries of your oven.” Her notion of farm-to-table is a flatbed truck. Many of her recipes pre-date the Civil War, handed down skillet by skillet, from one generation of Braggs to the next. In this New York Times bestsellerRick Bragg finally preserves his heritage by telling the stories that framed his mother’s cooking and education, from childhood into old age. Because good food always has a good story, and a recipe, writes Bragg, is a story like anything else.

We’ll meet for a traditional Southern supper at one of Chicago’s newest restaurants, Ina Mae Tavern, owned by Chef Brian Jupiter. Bring us your stories about what you learned from your momma….or what you wish you had learned! This is a fun event for potential members, so feel free to invite a guest, but sign up quickly, as space is limited.

WHEN: Tuesday, Feb. 12 from 6 – 8 pm

WHERE: Ina Mae Tavern and Packaged Goods
1415 North Wood St.
Chicago  IL  60622
773 360 8320

COST: $40 per person; includes dinner and one beverage of the restaurant’s choosing. Sign up and purchase tickets here.

Registration closes at noon, Friday Feb. 8. Minimum 10, maximum 20 participants. Hope to see you there!

Catch up & Toast 2019 at the Post-Holiday Party!

Please join your fellow Dames for dinner, Chinese New Year-style at the post-holiday party on Sunday, Jan. 20 at the home of Dame Portia Belloc-Lowndes. This is a great time to catch up with your fellow Dames after the busy fall and holiday seasons and toast a great new year for Les Dames d’Escoffier Chicago.  Please note: this is not a potluck! 
  • WHEN: Sunday, Jan. 20, 5:30-9 p.m. 
  • WHERE: At the home of Dame Portia Belloc-Lowndes, 34 E. Bellevue Place in Chicago.
  • Parking: there is valet parking at several restaurants in the neighborhood (it is rather expensive), and if you are lucky enough to find a street spot, Portia can provide a  neighborhood parking permit. The Red Line at Clark & Division is a 10 minute walk from Portia’s home.
  • No charge 🙂
We will toast the new year with a Chinese feast among friends. Please bring a bottle of wine, spirits or other beverage to share. There will be plenty of food provided, but if you are inclined to bring a dish, please contact Portia at portia.belloc@gmail.com.

We will also do a book swap, so please bring a book – new or old – that has meaning to you. It could be a cookbook, a novel, a biography – whatever has meaning to you. Please include a short note about why you’ve chosen this book, sign it and wrap it up festively. Each person will give one and get one back in exchange! 

This is a terrific event for guests, so if you have any prospective members in mind, please invite them and include their name in your RSVP to Portia.

RSVP: Portia Belloc-Lowndes at portia.belloc@gmail.com by Jan. 14 please.

Dame Judy Schad: For the Love of Chevre

SCHAD-capriole-cheese-picYou would expect a holiday gathering at Dame Judy Schad’s home to feature a silky fresh chevre. And you wouldn’t be wrong. But the woman who founded Capriole Goat Cheese 30 years ago wouldn’t stop there.

A cheese assortment this season would include a ripened goat cheese, perhaps O’Banon, SCHAD-solo-pica subtle cheese wrapped in Bourbon-marinated chestnut leaves. Or the vegetable-ash-marbled Sofia, named for Dame Sofia Solomon. Or her favorite these days: Piper’s Pyramide with its smoked-paprika accent.

Schad would add an aged cheese, the wildflower-and-herb-dusted Julianna or Mont St. Francis, its rind bathed in Lagunitas Imperial Stout, then complete a cheese trio with a chestnut or lavender honey, nut breads, plus a berry sweet-tart compote or preserves with the Sofia or Piper’s.

Yet Schad doesn’t relegate the nine different goat cheeses (photo above) that Capriole makes to the cocktail hour or a single meal course. She stirs fresh goat cheese, gently, into quiche, risotto, cream sauces or cheesecake and offers more than a dozen recipes that use it, including Apple Clafouti with Fresh Goat Cheese, at capriolegoatcheese.com.

“Fresh chevre is an amazing ingredient. You can use it in almost anything where you want lightness and loft,” she told us. “The creaminess does not come from butterfat, but from the handling of the curd and preserving that fragile texture.”

Her caveat for cooking with fresh chevre: “If you’re putting it in a cheesecake or a sauce, you want to mix it carefully — like folding in egg whites. You don’t want to destroy the airiness of the cheese,” she added. “If you overwork it, you’re going to get something pasty, like peanut butter.”

It was a love of French chevre and a neighbor’s gift of a goat that sent Schad into the kitchen with the little book, “Cheesemaking Made Easy” by Ricki Carroll. As the size of the goat herd increased at her farm near the southern Indiana town of Greenville and the Kentucky border, she founded Capriole Goat Cheese and went on to create award-winning fresh, aged and ripened goat cheeses.

Initially, she tried duplicating French chevres. But inspired by fellow artisan cheesemakers — Cypress Grove’s Mary Keehn, Vermont Creamery’s Allison Hooper and Mozzarella Company’s Paula Lambert among them — she began, over the years, developing a variety of cheeses “that are a reflection of a place and a person and all the things you associate with terroir which is more than geography.” Like the Wabash Cannonball pictured here.


“Wabash Cannonball is a reflection of the little boules we’ve seen in France and we’re not far from the Wabash River,” said Schad, who was “a Renaissance lit major so I loved playing with words.”

Mont St. Francis? There’s a Franciscan Retreat Center near Capriole.  And when she saw a cheese wrapped in chestnut leaves, she created O’Banon, trying eau du vie and Cognac then Bourbon, figuring: “I’m almost in the heart of Bourbon country.

“I don’t know if it’s part of the mysteries of the cheese, but you can take that very same basic curd and turn it into a cannonball or a Sofia or Pyramide — it can be the same curd you start out with and they come out differently. I love it.”

Her favorite part of cheesemaking was ladling fresh cheese into the molds and baskets, but “ladling that 400 gallons of fresh curd is not anything I can do by myself anymore,” said Schad, a member of the Chicago chapter and frequent visitor to the Windy City.

The best part of these days? “It’s the people I work with and the customer on the other end. That’s what really keeps me inspired and excited about what we’re doing.”

“And it’s the people I’ve met along the way,” Schad added, remembering her first customers Carrie Nahabedian and Sarah Stegner and Jean Joho and her friendships with Sophia Solomon and Green City Market. — Dame Judy Hevrdejs                                                              Photos courtesy of Capriole, Inc.