Savor the Flavor of the Chaîne
How can a city once known for $4.95 all-you-can-eat buffets spawn an organization devoted to fine food and wine? Skepticism easily escalates when you discover that the group traces its origins back to 1248 and the French Royal Guild of Meat Roasters and that the “sword” used for membership induction is modeled after a larding needle, a device used to insert fat lard into meats to help keep them moist during cooking.
Meet the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, a convivial group enthusiastically devoted to the “pleasures of the table.” Re-established in Paris in 1950 and launched in Las Vegas in 1959, the Chaîne is the oldest gastronomic society in the world. It has chapters in over 70 countries, and there are more than 130 bailliages chapters in the U.S. with over 6,000 members.
The common denominator among members is their passion for exceptional food and wines. Local, regional, national, and international dinners and events merge these kindred spirits. Because of the Chaîne’s global outreach, members find a warm welcome when in a city where a chapter is located.
Las Vegas Bailliage members are an eclectic mix of food and wine professionals, fine wine and food enthusiasts, movers and shakers in the community, and rising stars in the hospitality industry. Meetings are held at a variety of venues that have ranged from a roving feast among the restaurants at Crystals to Michelin three-star extravaganzas.
“The Chaîne is all about shared interests in food and wine and great dining experiences, whether formal or casual,” says Las Vegas chapter Bailli president Larry Ruvo, senior managing director of Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada, who became the local chapter’s Bailli in 1993. “Vegas is blessed with many celebrity chefs who cook for us; and wine suppliers have excellent, esoteric, hard-to-find, sought-after wines. It’s a very exciting town for F&B. We’ve become known for thinking out of the box.”
Ruvo recalls a dinner when the Las Vegas chapter’s first Bailli Nat Hart, then F&B Director at Caesars Palace, included shark fin soup on the menu. “When the soup was served,” Ruvo says, “Caesar, Cleopatra, and some Roman Guards paraded a 10-foot shark with its mouth open throughout the banquet room.”
Although the Las Vegas Chaîne’s April dinner at Daniel Boulud’s db Brasserie at The Venetian eschewed bacchanalian excess, the evening certainly celebrated with gastronomic fireworks. Celebrity chef Daniel Boulud was in the kitchen; and famed vintner Michael Mondavi, whom the evening honored, poured wines from his portfolio during the five-course meal. Less scandalous than escapades of Cleo and her consort but still entertaining, both men revealed details of their involvement in food and wine. Upcoming dinners are planned at Mario Batali’s B&B Ristorante at The Venetian and Michael Mina’s Bardot at Aria.
The Chaîne is also committed to education, sponsoring annual competitions for young chefs and young sommeliers and providing scholarships to help aspiring hospitality industry hopefuls realize their career goals. “This is important not only to those who compete but also to the future growth and excellence of the hospitality industry,” Ruvo states.
Young chef competitors receive an identical mystery “market basket” containing a few key ingredients which must be included in a three-course meal for four people, designed and prepared in four hours. Competitions are held at regional, national and international levels. The 2011 U.S. winner, Chef Reilly Mehan, also won the International Young Chef Competition. The 2015 U.S. finals are being held in Las Vegas at Le Cordon Bleu, where from June 12 through 14 nine young chefs will contend for top honors. They hang their toques at such diverse properties as Sheraton and JW Marriott resorts; Blue Hills Country Club in Kansas City, MO; The Biltmore in Ashville, NC; and Three Village Inn at Stonybrook, NY. The winner heads to Budapest, Hungary, for the international “cook off” on September 11.
The Young Sommelier competition is sponsored by the Société Mondial du Vin, the “wine connoisseur” section of the Chaîne. Finals are being held in mid-May in Santa Barbara. The International Competition is on September 24-26 in Adelaide, Australia. In 2012, Christopher P. Bates, General Manager and Executive Chef at Hotel Fauchere in Milford, PA, took home both the U.S. and International Young Sommelier “gold.”
After a written test online, high scorers participate in regional competitions consisting of a blind tasting of six wines and a standardized service test. The two-day national event includes a one-hour written test, blind tasting, and multiple services tests. The three top finalists then vie before a live audience.
“The Chaîne’s competitions are very important,” Ruvo asserts. “The hospitality industry is becoming more of a profession, with servers better informed about what’s on the plate, chefs better trained about sourcing ingredients, and sommeliers with more in-depth knowledge about wines. The Chaîne not only wants to promote today’s great chefs and vintners but also young chefs and talented sommeliers who are the hospitality industry’s future.”