As long-time readers of this column know, the Prairie Editor
participates in an annual private dinner that commemorates
the memory of Winston Churchill on or near his birthday,
Other such dinners take place in the U.S. and the United
Kingdom, and with no doubt more celebrated participants,
but none are likely to be more interesting in their culinary
fare, nor truer to the spirit of parliamentary debate in which
the English statesman so singularly and memorably contributed
during his long stint as a member of the British lower house.
It has been 142 years since Sir Winston was born , and the local
dinner here in Minneapolis was begun 42 years ago on the
centenary of his birth. It began as a dinner for six politically
active Minnesotans with a modest six-course menu featuring
breaded oysters, roast ham, good cigars, and some decent
The host, a prominent local attorney nationally known for his
arboreal conservation efforts, has repeated the dinner every
year since, all but one at his home. It now has nine guests (on
a permanent list), is black-tie (one guest shows up in a formal
Scottish Highland kilt), and the occasion goes through twelve
courses, numerous bottles of the finest wines and cordials, and
the best cigars, over an eight hour period beginning in the late
afternoon. The host, an excellent amateur chef, no longer does
the cooking himself, but the dinner is prepared by a talented
professional chef/sommelier who in his day job serves as one of
the major wine buyers in the region.
The participants are older gentlemen who have been, or are still,
active, in public affairs, and include a former congressman, a
former city councilman, two former candidates for governor,
a former presidential appointee, current and former business
executives, an architect, the host, and yours truly. Politically,
the guests range from liberal to centrist independent to
Toasts are offered to Mr. Churchill, Her Majesty The Queen,
the president of the United States, and (on this occasion) the
president-elect of the United States.
The event begins in a fireplace-lit library of leather chairs,
antique furniture, and two stories of a fine book collection,
with the serving of a variety of appetizers including breaded
oysters, Gouda cheese on zweiback, irresistible shrimp toasts,
and very dry Spanish sherry.
The conversation between the invitees, many of whom have not
seen each other since the previous dinner, is cordial, and with
the surprise presidential election result, was destined to be lively.
This phase is then closed with the playing of a recording of one
of Mr. Churchill’s speeches, delivered by himself.
The diners then move to the nearby formal dining room where
the table settings are elegantly arranged with sterling silverware
of numerous and various forks, spoons and knives, several crystal
wine and water glasses, and the finest china for each diner.
This year’s meal began with fresh lobster, three imported
cheeses and pasta, playfully described as “lobster mac and cheese.”
(The Kraft folks never sold any package which produced
so rich a dish as this.) The next course was sliced, slow-roasted
goose breast with a fig-madeira sauce accompanied by red
cabbage. The following course was tenderloin of American bison ,
served rare with a porcini shallot sauce, and was accompanied by
a brilliant potato pave, as well as sauteed fresh Brussels sprouts,
parsnips and carrots.
Accompanying the pasta course was a German Weiser Burgander
(pinot blanc) 2014.. With the poultry course came a French
Chateau de Haute Sette 2010 (Cahors). A powerful Roth Estate
Heritage Red 2013 (Sonoma) was paired with the bison.
The next course was an arcata French bread with blue cheese
butter. Mineral waters, including San Pellegrino, Blu Italia, Evian
and Gerolstein were poured.
The chef’s own winter citrus salad was then served, and it was
followed by dishes of passion fruit and raspberry sorbets.
A traditional course at this dinner, in the English manner, is the
serving of a preserved citron. A number of guests have in the past
eschewed this course, and so candied ginger, apricots and dates
are also provided.
A new course at this year’s dinner was the presentation of an
historic panettone Milanese. This artisan holiday cake is now
made locally at Cossetta’s bakery and pasticceria by its own
bakers who were recently trained in Brescia, Italy by the greatest
living panettone master. It was served, as is often the custom,
with an espresso corretto, brewed on the host’s own
The concluding course in the dining room was Colston and
Basset farmhouse stilton cheese, accompanied by glasses of
Ferreira 20-year old tawny port.
The final phase of this annual dinner now moved to the host’s
living room where cigars of the world’s finest selections were
handed out. Snifters of Dudognons “Grand Champagne” cognac
or Tariquet bas armagnac were poured. For those who preferred
it, glasses of Iowa Templeton rye whiskey was offered.
The lively political discussion begun in the dining room was now
picked up in even more fervent detail over cigars and cordials.
A sheet was passed around to all attendees with which to make
predictions about politics, public policy, sports, and finance for the
coming year. (Only one guest had predicted the nomination of Mr.
Trump at the 2015 dinner, and only one had predicted that the
Chicago Cubs would win the World Series.)
Bringing the long evening to a close was the opening of bottles of
Duval Leroy Brut Reserve champagne and the serving of a
delicious guest-made cheesecake with fresh blackberries.
As the Churchill dinner attendees prepared to leave into the
chilly post midnight snowfall, each was offered a container of a
popular but removed-from-the-menu annual course, cream of
peanut soup Williamsburg. It had been prepared the night before
so that the gentlemen of this dinner might have a special culinary
memento to take home to their families.
Except on a few cruise ships, an elaborate Edwardian meal such as
this is almost no longer available. And even when a multi-course
gourmet meal is offered, there are very, very few such robust,
celebratory and provocative occasions as this one continues to
be on a cold winter night in these quickly-changing times.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.