[image-1]This past Saturday’s inaugural Les Dames d’Escoffier International Charleston chapter culinary academy was a well-attended, expertly coordinated event. For a full day of instruction from area industry pros, plus breakfast and lunch, hors d’oeuvres whipped up by top chefs, and full glasses of stellar wine, the $175 ticket (mostly) made sense. Plus, there were the gift baskets filled with Le Creuset, King Bean coffee, Geechie Boy Grits, gift cards — the Charleston jack pot.

I would divide the day (the academy ran from 8:30 a.m. to around 4 p.m.) into two parts: flourish and food. I think most of the audience was grateful (based on their questions and note taking) to have the first half of the day focused on flourish, i.e.; how to pull off a holiday dinner without stress, how to create affordable hostess gifts, and how to create beautiful “tablescapes.”

As someone who never has and never will own heirloom silver, though, these sessions felt too Betty Draper and not enough Peggy Olson. When an audience member was told that paper napkins can never be used in place of linen napkins when entertaining, I think my eyes may have gotten stuck in the back of my head. Alas, maybe I’m just never going to be the hostess with the mostess.  
[image-9]But the food and wine instruction, held in the latter half of the day, was worth the price of admission. I was held rapt — Michelle Weaver explaining how to make the perfect little fluffy cornmeal blinis? I could listen to that all day.

Weaver was joined by Butcher & Bee’s Chelsey Conrad and Magnolia’s Kelly Franz for a short but sweet session focused on three hors d’oeuvres recipes — mushroom meatballs, smoked trout blinis, and pickled deviled eggs (we got to taste all of this fare, of course, and it was nothing short of divine). I felt like an honorary fly on the wall at the coolest dinner party ever, witnessing the three top of their game chefs casually interacting, asking questions, and cracking jokes.  
[image-6] After the food demos, Edmund’s Oast wine director and Edmund’s Oast Exchange general manager Sarah O’Kelley talked the audience through three different wines (all under $30) that would work perfectly for a holiday meal, all available at the Exchange.

She also offered a helpful tip sheet, “The Fun Guide to Holiday Wines.” O’Kelley’s five tricks are: bubbles solve all problems; acid cuts richness so choose some dry riesling, chenin blanc, champagne, or rose; food and family friendly reds are a necessity so look for moderate alcohol (Pinot Noir), silky tannins (Cru Beaujolais), and medium body (Grenache); look for wines from off the beaten path like Southern Italy, Portugal, and Southwest France; and ask wine shops for wines that use sustainable farming, family producers, and small production.

There is supposed to be another culinary academy slated for the spring. If “entertaining” is part of your everyday vocab, and you love tips and tricks for what kind of bites and bubbles to serve at your next party, buy a ticket as soon as they’re available. If your interests are more foodie-oriented, or wine tastings are your zenith, maybe sit out the first half of the day, or bring a buddy who loves infusing oils and vinegars with random herbs. She’ll have a blast.  [content-1]

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