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Benjamin Epstein / Style

Dining Is Art to Food and Wine Society


The ancient guild of goose and swan roasters held its national convention in Orange County last week.

Actually, the French trade guild has evolved into a food and wine society: The modern-day Confrerie de la Chaine des Rotisseurs boasts chapters in 100 countries--kings and queens are counted among its members--and 95 chapters in the United States alone.

Most of the organization's five-day convention took place at the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel; it culminated in a lavish dinner at the Hotel Meridien in Newport Beach Saturday night.

"We're trying to preserve the art of dining with conversation," chief operating officer Hal Stayman explained. "Today, dining in most families has become little more than a way station to another activity. You sit down, you eat a course or two and you're off to the TV or sports or bingo or whatever. You don't spend the dinner hour discussing anything worthwhile.

"Our dinners are an extension of the olden times, when people would sit and visit leisurely, over 2 1/2 or three hours. It can't always be as elegant as tonight, of course."

The Meridien served a nine-course meal; among the most successful dishes was a ragout of loup de mer (similar to sea bass), langoustines and scallops in two sauces. In addition to the fine Burgundies, Bordeaux and Champagne that were served, the dinner marked the West Coast debut of a sparkling liqueur called Petite Liqueur Petillante. It comes from Moet et Chandon and is the only sparkling liqueur on the market.

Meals enjoyed earlier in the week at the Ritz-Carlton included such imaginative dishes as braised gray escargots with sweetbreads in aged port, steamed in won-ton skins with garlic and chive cream; cactus flower and lime sorbet, and alligator tail picante.

National president Roger Yaseen offered a short history of the organization.

"In the year 1248, the Chaine received the royal charter from Louis IX," Yaseen said. "The goose and swan roasters were the trade guild that attended to the tables of nobility, the executive chefs to the royal houses. It flourished for 500 years. By the time of the French Revolution, when it was abolished, it was the wealthiest of all trade guilds in France. We had a few moments of discontinuity"--about 200 years--"but in 1950, it was re-established by five Frenchmen.

"On our crest you can see the turning spits, the larding needles, flames dancing off the hearth and the French fleur-de-lis. The inner chain represents the labor of turning the birds slowly in front of the fire. The outer chain stands for ties of friendship, the camaraderie."

Among the society's projects are the sponsorship of a team in the Culinary Olympics held every four years in Frankfurt; the next will take place in 1988.

"We're not turning spits anymore," said Yaseen. "We're amateurs and professionals trying to enhance our knowledge. Ten years ago, we were struggling for existence. Now we are the largest, the strongest and the most influential. Good wine and good food are no longer enough. We are striving for worthwhile purpose and function."

To try various dishes and wines and work out menus for the meetings, national Conseiller Gastronomique Harry Breslau moved into the Ritz-Carlton for two months.

Joan Irvine Smith can't seem to get back to Virginia as often as she would like. So she's decided to bring a bit of Virginia to her.

Sunday, Smith and her mother, Athalie Clark, invited a few of their friends--800, in fact--to view the $35,000 Oaks Classic at her equestrian facility, the Oaks, in San Juan Capistrano.

They watched the new Grand Prix jumping event, which was lavishly catered with everything from lobster and calamary to tacos and chile, from under a white tent. (The paying public watched from the other side of the course on bleachers.)

It was being touted as Orange County's most successful--and most elegant--plunge into big-time horse jumping.

"Since I've been involved in this Irvine Co. matter, this litigation with Donald Bren, I haven't been able to go 'home' to Virginia," said Smith, who wore her hair in a long braided ponytail.

Smith grew up in Orange County and hasn't visited her Virginia thoroughbred breeding farm since 1978, when she became entangled in a series of lawsuits concerning the value of her 11% ownership interest in the Irvine Co. Even so, the granddaughter of the founder of the Irvine Co. has spent a great deal of time in Virginia and considers it home.

"I've wanted something like this (the Oaks) out here since I was a teen-ager. I got this property a year ago, renovated it from top to bottom, it's got this breeze up the river. . .

"It's the right time, it's a lush setting, it's a hell of a course."

A split-rail fence was brought from Virginia especially for the occasion; also from Virginia came one of the field judges, Morton Smith, and half a dozen of the spectators.

Plans Bigger Event

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