I was dropped off at the Capital Hotel after a long day of traveling. I opened the door and rolled my hard-sided bag with a "biodiesel" bumper sticker affixed to it across the tile mosaic floor. Clem (dear Clem), the late-night concierge, looked me over and without missing a beat, had my key in my hand. I can only imagine what was running through his mind I rolled away.
My room was on the third floor, up a staircase straight out of "Gone With The Wind". I passed the second floor with its forest of marble arched columns, the exact spot where I am pictured below, but I am getting ahead of myself.
Me, shaking the hand of Cathy Mayton, Vice President, Episcopal Collegiate School Foundation. To her left is Emeril Lagasse. Next to Emeril, you can barely see Lee Richardson, who is the Executive Chef for the Capital Hotel. In between Lee and me, in the back, is Warren Stephens, President, Episcopal Collegiate School Foundation Board of Directors, and Chairman, President, and CEO of Stephens Inc. Micah Goff, to my right, Special Projects Coordinator Episcopal Collegiate School Foundation.
I opened the door to my room to reveal a four-poster bed, soaring ceilings , and a sofa. All in all, the space was bigger than my apartment back in Queens when I lived in New York. I settled into the covers and drifted away...
I'll fast forward to the day of the fund-raiser dinner for the Episcopal Collegiate School. I was dying to see the much-fabled kitchens. Louis, the assistant food and beverage director ( I thought of him as Radar as he always anticipated our every need), took me for a behind the scenes tour of the hotel. It has four kitchens! The STOVE inside the main kitchen has the footprint of most KITCHENS!
There was an army of people preparing every detail for the night's dinner. I met Lee Richardson, the chef at Ashley's, where I had some of the best oysters of my life just minutes before. Early in my childhood, I lived just feet from the Chesapeake Bay, dragging oysters home for my poor parents to clean and cook. I know oysters! These were char-broiled in the shells, with just enough seasoning to make them sing. Just past chef Lee, I met Chris Wilson, Emeril's right-hand man in New Orleans. Chris was calmly orchestrating yet more food that was destined for the night's dinner.
Past the kitchen, hidden deep under the hotel is a glorious wine cellar, with a polished table in the center. It is the site of more intimate wine dinners. Tonight's dinner, with its 40 couples and 5 winemakers, would take over Ashley's, and, later, the hotel.
Anne Amie was to be featured alongside Honig Vineyards, Reynolds Family Winery, Merry Edwards Wines, and Paul Hobbs Winery. As the lone Oregon winery I definitely felt the pressure to show well. I felt a little like the country mouse visiting his city cousin. Here were wineries from Napa and Sonoma where it is customary to garden in a tuxedo. For me, the last time I had a tux on I was at prom. It was mauve.
Pictured from left to right: Steve Reynolds, Me, Stephanie Honig, Merry Edwards and her husband Ken, Paul Hobbs.
All the wines showed magnificently. I was especially pleased with how well the Anne Amie pinot gris melded with Emeril's crawfish bisque with porcini mushrooms, asparagus and black truffle puree. The acidity in the gris paired so well with the creamy bisque. The spice heat in the bisque was tamed by the fruit-sweetness of the gris. The rich truffle puree was lifted by the green apple and citrus of the wine. It was a perfect example of wine making food more interesting and vise-versa.
The evening was a dream. So many wonderful people filled the room giving their time and energy for charity. Their reward was a great evening of food, wine, music, and camaraderie.
The night held many hidden pluses. I made a great friend in Steve Reynolds. What a wonderful genuine guy. I don’t remember stepping on anyone’s toes on the dance floor. I was able to share our wine with so many people. And, I left Little Rock with a greater understanding and admiration for the city and its people.
Thank you Clem, Louis, Graham, “Grace”, and, especially, Chris and Lee for their inspired cuisine. Thank you Warren. Thank you Emeril.
Thank you Little Rock.