Around two years ago, I had just gotten home from culinary school. My uniform had just been tossed in the laundry, I was in my pajamas, and was clicking around online for something interesting to read when my phone rang. It was my father, and the conversation went like this:
Dad: “Matt, where are you now?”
Me: “Uh… just got home, Dad.”
Dad: “Do you own a tux?”
Me: “Not really… I’ve got a black suit and vest though.”
Dad: “That’ll do. How far are you from (a local country club/ golf course)?
Me: “Um… about 15 minutes.”
Dad: “Meet me there in 20 minutes. Wear your suit. Black tie. Bring business cards.” *click*
Cards in vest pocket, I burned rubber to get to the country club.
There was food EVERYWHERE. A large appetizer buffet had been set up in a round in the center of the room- crudite, baked brie, dips, salads, dressings.
Waiters were milling around with trays. I heard the words “oyster,” “foie gras,” and “caviar” more than once.
I was a fart in a perfume shop.
I was a warm bottle of beer at a barbecue.
My dad leaned in and muttered in my ear:
“Purple means they’re involved in food. Orange means a chef. Orange with red is head chef, Purple with orange is a chef owner. Go talk.”
Then he vanished. My brain promptly gave up and crapped itself.
A Quick History Lesson
The Chaîne de Rôtisseurs (“The Chaîne” for short, pronounced “shen”) is a gastronomy group- the oldest and largest food and wine society in the world, with chapters (“Baillage”, “bailli” plural) all over the world, bringing together people that love to eat food with the chefs that love to make it.
We’ll get back to tuxedoed, poo-brained me in a bit.
This position of authority and power was enjoyed for several centuries, thanks to the patronage of the more affluent heads of society. The guild disbanded in 1793, however, due to the loss of that affluent patronage- who had lost THEIR heads in the French Revolution.
The Chaîne almost had the world’s first restaurant shut down, because Boulanger wasn’t buying from them.
Anyway, leaping forward:
In 1950, the Chaine was resurrected as “La Confrerie de la Chaines de Rotisseur” by Dr. Auguste Becart, Jean Valby, “Prince” Cumonsky, and Chefs Louis Giraudon and Marcel Dorin. To represent the new organization, a logo was designed based on the original guilds coat of arms:
The mission of today’s Chaine is simple: to bring people who love good food, wine, and people together with chefs and professionals who love serving them. Simultaneously, the Chaine encourages its professionals to talk, converse, and explore. When a Chaine dinner occurs at the restaurant, they are not interested in the standard menu. They want the chef and his staff to play around and explore. The weird, the bizarre, the rare and unusual- all fair game, as long as they are delicious and go well with wine.
The baillage closest to me, in Atlantic City, is also very active in benefitting culinary education. Yearly fundraisers are held to help local culinary schools, and especially talented students are awarded scholarships- as well as student memberships in the Chaine itself- to help them on with their careers. As cynical as it may seem, the opportunity to simply MEET people who are higher up in the field than yourself, much less sit across a table from them for a few hours, is not one for a young professional to miss. I highly encourage any young sommeliers or culinarians out there to seek them out, or similar organizations.
Any group that exists solely for people to enjoy food and wine together and give chefs the freedom to express themselves is a force for good in this world, as far as I’m concerned.
There I stood- drink in hand, business cards suddenly very heavy in the pocket of my ill-fitting black suit. Some people seemed drunk. Others seemed bored. Many seemed highly engaged. EVERYONE seemed hungry.
I packed a small plate with crudite and cheese, knocked back a glass of wine, and made straight for whoever seemed friendliest.
Many of the details of that night have faded from memory a bit, but here are some highlights.
- I met a very kind and animated older woman who was the procurer for a wine and liquor chain in central New Jersey. She would later invite me to a beer and wine festival, not usually open to the general public.
- A few drinks in, my dad flagged me over to his table and introduced me to an elegant, soft-spoken gentleman who expressed interest in my baking. I pulled out my phone and babbled my way through pictures of my work for about 10 minutes. The next morning, I realized he was the VP of Food and Beverage at one of the casinos. A few months later, he was my boss.
- At dinner, I sat next to another interesting old man- this one with longer, sort of scraggled hair and a thousand-yard stare. We talked at length about history, food, and education. He turned out to be one of the founders of my culinary school.
The week after, my dad asked if I wanted to join the Chaine.
A few months later, I was a Rotisseur (a student member.)
I never really thought of orange as my color before.