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Dinner Is Serious Business With Gourmet Society

October 12, 1985

NEW YORK (AP) _ Just before a legion of waiters arrives with the soup course, 100 diners wearing tuxedos and evening dresses tuck pressed white linen napkins under their chins in anticipation.

But the soup, a delicate borscht like no peasant ever tasted, and the four courses and four wines that followed were not merely for eating. This was dinner with the Les Amis d’Escoffier Society of New York, dedicated to the memory of Auguste Escoffier, one of France’s greatest chefs.

There are rules, including the placement of the napkins, for such a feast:

- People ″under the influence of liquor″ are not permitted at the table (No one was refused seating);

- There is no smoking until dessert is served; and,

- No one may discuss business, religion, politics or social status, since the society is committed ″to the art of good living only.″

″How many times do you go to a dinner and the conversation is about fund- raising or politics or business? This is not the purpose of dinner,″ said George W. Frees, a society member for 31 years and now its executive vice president.

″Fine dining is the point of civilization,″ said member Herbert Ernest, whose late father, Semy, helped found the society 49 years ago.

Friday’s dinner, at the Regency Hotel in Manhattan, was served by 10 tuxedoed waiters wearing white gloves. Allowing for a welcome pause between courses, they filed silently into the dining room to distribute the feast and the wines.

Under the rules, the wines must be consumed during the course for which they were intended; glasses, even if full, were removed before the next wine was poured.

And just in case anyone missed the point, attention was focused on dinner with commentary after each course and each wine.

Culinary consultant Eugene Scanlan, a retired executive chef and vice president at the Waldorf Astoria, where he once met Escoffier, provided the food critique.

″It kind of adds to the romance of the dinner, making people conscious of what they are eating and drinking and the marriage of the food and wine,″ he said during the reception that included pates of venison, duck, chicken, rabbit and salmon with goat cheese, served with champagne.

Scanlan found little that disappointed him Friday.

Of the pates, he said: ″They really talked to me.″

Of a red mullet stuffed with a pike mousse: ″Beautifully presented.″

But of the filet of beef, stuffed with oysters and served with whiskey sauce and a ″symphony″ of young vegetables, he said, ″The beef was outstanding, but I didn’t feel there were enough oysters to complement it.″

Wilma Dull, an assistant wine manager for an import company, told of such qualities as ″body, elegance, crispness″ and each wine’s relationship to the food.

There was also a pear-and-brandy ice to clear the palate between the fish and beef courses; salad and cheeses; a dessert crepe filled with raspberries, kiwi and fresh figs; chocolate truffles and candy-coated grapes and strawberries. Each portion of butter served was hand-sculpted in the shape of a swan.

Gary Clauson, the Regency’s exective chef, prepared the menu five weeks in advance, consulting with society members.

A menu, the society says in its rules, ″is not a question of just listing a certain amount of dishes, but the task is to make the proper choice of food so as to create an orchestration of delicacy and flavor.″

Clauson ordered the Mediterranean mullet from abroad a month ago. On Wednesday, stocks and sauces were started. Boning the fish alone would take four hours Friday. Six cooks worked with Clauson on Friday.

″It’s fun. If we didn’t enjoy it, we’d say, ’Go somewhere else,‴ said Clauson, 35.

The society, which holds two dinners each year, was founded by a group of chefs to honor Escoffier, who lived 1846-1935. Among other accomplishments, he is credited with simplifying haute cuisine and introducing standards of cleanliness and concern for nutrition in restaurant kitchens.

The society’s members are chefs, food and beverage managers, restaurant owners and hotel officials and some amateur cooks.

Annual membership dues for the society are $35. The tab for Friday’s benefit dinner was $150 per person, with proceeds going to scholarships and grants to culinary schools and to help support the Culinary Museum in Escoffier’s birthplace near Nice, France.

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