–submitted by Wendy Wink; photos and video by Mike McKay
Two of the most Irish Ladies: Valerie Kazamias and Wendy Wink
Sure ‘n begorrah (shure-en-bah-gora), honorary Irishwomen and Irishmen – Downtown Rotarians all – pledged their fealty to “service above self” at the March 17 Rotary Culinary Arts fete at Fresco’s. St. Patty’s Day couldn’t ‘a been finer. Tellin’ tales galore, no one gave a thought to countries of origin other than that green land ‘o ours. ‘Twas a grand eve ta be alive, Irish (or a fibbin’ facsimile), and a member of The Fellowship O’ the Culinartarian.
Fibbing is acceptable on St. Patrick’s Day; di’ ya’ know that? If truth be told (and it was, sometimes, at least), there could never have been a finer meal in all of this green (snow-laden, though it be) land. Suspend one part ‘o the four-way test – Is it the Truth? Sure ‘n the rest outweigh that ‘n for a few hours of joviality– fair to all, build goodwill and better friendships, beneficial to all—practiced to the finest extent by this little band of Fellows, the Fellowship of the Culinartarian, 17 o’ us on the 17th, that’s the truth, told by all in attendance and every leprechaun in the land, or at least those on State Street.
Launched by those leprechauns, Cathy O’ Durham and Valerie
O’ Kazamias, the Fellowship O’ the Culinartarian joined hands and sang “When Irish Eyes are Shining”. (No, actually, we didn’t, but we could have if asked. What really happened was truth tellin’ over cocktails of either Champagne or a delicious wine blend and hors d’oeuvres of tender flank steak rolls covering fresh arugula and globe-shaped green risotto cakes covered with crispy bacon strips sitting on a mound of creamy Ireland. Yes, Ireland.)
All the Fellowship (or, almost all) wore colorful bowler hats, some green, some shamrock-covered and were seated, followed by a stirring welcome from O’ Durham and her introduction of Chef John, a tall, smiling fellow, recognizable because he was the only soul not wearing green. He was charming, explaining his approach to the meal and the feast awaiting Culinartarians. He admitted he loved the challenge – a traditional meal, but not. He accomplished a marvel.
The feast and festivities launched with three songs from Steve O’ Goldberg, the resident Culinartarian troubadour (say that a couple of times over a wine cocktail). So glorious was his voice, no Irish pipe nor drums were needed. Our bard, 20 years a’singin’ in Irish pubs with fellows, O’ Goldberg leapt onto a chair (yes, he did) to regale the Fellowship with the tale of the rationale for Irish tunes – three categories be they: nonsense, drinking, and rebel. We were in for all three! The titles of the songs were never given, but the gist of them was: “Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder”, “Irish Jubilee and Cassidy” (we were delighted we were in for less than the full 25 verses), and “Johnson’s Motor Car”. More later.
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The Culinartarians were served by sweet, lively, and fully-green hatted wait staff, pleasant and delighted, also, that there were less than 25 verses, commenting on O’ Goldberg’s superb voice, memory and rendition.
“And so,” you say, “how was the food and drink?” Absolutely out of this Ol’ Irish world. Beginning with an amuse bouche (yes, even the French are Irish on St. Patrick’s Day) that was a superb, creamy veloute of potato soup topped with what Chef John described as a “potato chip”, but really was a lovely floating, crispy topping to the soup. Apparently, Irish are allowed to lick their soup cup because many among the Fellowship were caught tongues a’lickin’.
“And a salad?” you say. Well, what a salad. Some called this far more than a salad. Sitting atop a grassy island (you knew I’d write this) of mixed greens delicately touched by sherry vinaigrette were scotch eggs (even the Scots are Irish on St. Patrick’s Day). And, oh my, were those eggs out of this Irish world! How the heck Chef John managed to cover eggs with shaved pork butt that tasted like superior sausage, cook the whole item, then slice them in half and place them onto the greens, is beyond us. Of course, we were swooning and awing and drooling and downing these luscious items. Served with the scotch eggs was an Adami Prosecco, bubbling away in Champaign glasses. We said we might not have needed more, but more came to us, and more we ate, and laughed, and cheered.
The entree was thick slices of corned beef that had been roasted (yes, roasted and, yes, even the Corned are Irish on St. Patrick’s Day) beautifully hung over (cute, eh?) colcannon (potatoes mashed with roasted Brussels sprouts), a side of roasted carrots, and “house made 1000 island dressing” that doesn’t come close to describing the horseradish glory of this dipping sauce. Some (moi) ate the whole thing; some took a bit home for the wee ones. Accompanying this incredible main meal was a delicate Timbach pinot blanc.
“And, dessert?” you say. Well, how can a tale-teller describe this? Called a “Guinness chocolate cake” as stated on the menu simply does not do justice to this sculpture and taste extravaganza. Follow me, if you dare: it looked like a slightly singed dahlia – a beautiful flower, with meringue petals lightly touched by flame to caramelize the peaks, under which was mint iced cream and a wafer of Guinness chocolate cake. This had seated, at its side, a truly glorious (and lickable, if you dared) Irish whiskey caramel sauce. Some Culinartarians asked for seconds. Ask and ye shall receive replied the green-hatted wait staff. A perfect port, Graham’s Six Grapes, was served to accompany this astonishing dessert.
But, there were two endings to draw the evening to a close: O’ Durham thanked the Fellowship of the Culinartarians, paying special tribute to the Fellowship for their joviality and to spouses and friends for their patience. This was followed by… O’ Goldberg, who rose, literally to the top of a chair to sing us through to the end of the evening. The last songs: “How did Ireland get its name?” (or something like that) and, as O’ Goldberg fibbed to the audience of happy Culinartarians, the “Only Irish Love Song” which started more like a wife-murder and ended happily.
This tale does not include the claim, so certain, that St. Patrick was Greek Orthodox and that St. Patrick’s Day started blue, not green, becoming green as it passed across the seas. “Is it the truth?” Only the Irish know. And they know, all great evenings end happily with shamrocks, blarney, and joy. Many, many thanks to O’ Kazamias, O’ Durham, Chef John, his crew, and our evening’s bard, O’ Goldberg.