By Lin Stone
If my seat at the dining table at The Essex earlier in November to preview the upcoming “Vermont Public Television’s (VPT) Experience inspired by ‘Downton Abbey’” fundraising gala was meant to entice and build some excitement, I’ll not be coy: it did that and did it well. The event is inspired and likely to be deliciously indulgent and fun.
The food offered that evening for our pleasure-seeking appraisal was thoughtful, well- researched, and prepared with meticulous care – as though guests were deserving aristocracy in the early 1900s. The Essex’s uber-talented culinary trio was Arnd Seivers, certified master chef; Shawn Calley, executive chef, and Doug Paine, chef dePartie. It may be surprising to learn that the dishes the chefs presented held elements of classic French cuisine. True to era, England’s King Edward the V was fond of travel and brought back to England a penchant for continental cuisine.
The six-course dinner lasted a relaxed two and a half hours and libations began with a Whisky Pig dram to help infuse the evening with a smooth, warm, golden glow. The first course was a plump trio of baked oysters (Rockefeller, sauce Francaise, and champagne mousseline) on a lacy bed of pop-bead seaweed. The second course was oxtail (not bull) consommé. Third was a traditional French palate cleanser: cassis sorbet with a fairy dusting of candied violets: in a word, heavenly. Following this was an entrée fit for his royal highness: beef filet and lobster Wellington served with pommes William (a beguiling golden pear-shaped duchesse potato), roast parsnips and carrots all comfortably perched on a savory ladling of truffle demi-glace. The fifth course staged a ladder of profiterole bites with stilton, Cabot clothbound cheddar, and a trio of house-made chutney and jams. Lastly, a ball gown finale of lady-fingered raspberry Charlotte Russe. The meal was a gracious masterpiece.
Although readers and viewers must bide their time and await January’s season three showing of “Downton Abbey,” Vermont’s Crawley family fans are most fortunate. For when VPT and The Essex carefully turn back time and transform The Essex into another golden era, there will be Edwardian banquets and teas, whisky nosings and tastings, culinary demonstrations, arcades, green-screen sets, an etiquette challenge, a fashion competition, guest speakers, and for some overnight guests, even a personal footman.
The event’s producer, Michael Ellenbogen commented, “As a producer I think the most exciting aspect is the collaboration of so many talented people; as an attendee, I’d have to say that much of the excitement has not only revolved around recreating the era’s foods, but also the fashion competition. Karen Augusta is our judge for the competition and a 17th-20th century fashion and textiles expert who is frequently a guest expert on the “Antiques Roadshow.”’
“Downton Abbey” is a masterpiece drama with the largest number of nominations in the history of primetime Emmy Awards, and the most watched costume drama in three decades. VPT’s Experience Inspired by “Downton Abbey” pre-season fundraising event at the Essex promises to be its own masterpiece and offers viewers the opportunity to support a banquet to which all Vermont socialites and servants are invited equally and welcome.
For information please visit vpt.org; for ticket information contact Chuck Bongiorno at 654-3663.