Some Enchanted Evening

A behind-the-scenes invitation to one of the South Bay’s coolest private dinners

 

On the first night of autumn, as the final tinge of summer lingered in the temperate, coastal evening air, a small group of friends and family gathered for an intimate dinner at a beautiful private home along the Manhattan Beach Strand. To an outside observer, this dinner would not seem unusual or extraordinary … just a typical South Bay gathering of good friends sharing a lovely meal and some wine in a charming beachside home. Yet this dinner would be anything but ordinary. For on this night, a group of friends would enjoy the meal of a lifetime—a six-course master chef dinner prepared exclusively for them.

The origins of this magical evening began early in 2013 when the annual Manhattan Wine Auction (MWA) approached entrepreneur/restaurateur/hotelier Michael Zislis with a challenge. They asked him to assemble a live auction item so grand in scope that it would create massive buzz, a live bidding frenzy and ultimately bring in an extremely generous final bid. Michael, a long-time supporter of the auction and its beneficiary, the Manhattan Beach Education Foundation (MBEF), was more than willing to oblige.

Michael decided that the ideal auction item should be “relationship-based,” so he curated a multi-course, private master chef dinner. Naturally he first asked Chef Neal Fraser and Chef Greg Hozinsky from his restaurant The Strand House to take part in a charity dinner. Then he reached out to a few of his other chef friends—including Chef Michael Cimarusti of Providence; Chef Josiah Citrin of Melisse; Chef Timothy Hollingsworth, a James Beard award winner formerly of The French Laundry; and Chef Walter Manzke of Republique—each of whom had previously participated in a Strand House Culinary Master Series.

Michael asked if they would donate their time to support the MBEF. Each readily agreed, and with that the “Master Chef All-Stars” lot went on the MWA live auction block.

On June 15, the evening of the Manhattan Wine Auction, first-time attendees Chip Herwegh and Bethany Herwegh were perusing the live auction lots when Bethany spied the item listed as “Master Chef All-Stars at Your Home or The Strand” and knew immediately which lot she would bid on. A self-proclaimed foodie, Bethany demurely admits, “When it came to bidding on the chef dinner, it was all me and not so much Chip. I spotted the auction item, knew I wanted it, and I went for it. At one point I even stood on a chair.” 

Her friend Brandi adds, “She wanted that item, and she was not going to lose.” Ultimately, Bethany (whose last name is poetically pronounced “her way”) secured her dream auction item, bringing us back to the evening of the dinner.

The Herweghs invited Bethany’s parents (also foodies) as well as three couples who were with them the night of the wine auction to join them at the exclusive chef dinner. They opted to have the dinner on The Strand as was offered in auction lot. Michael Zislis and his wife, Andrea, asked their dear friends Rich and Susan Walker if they would open their beautifully restored 1930s beach home to host the chefs dinner in support of the MBEF, and they happily agreed.

To prepare for the dinner, the furnishings were removed from the Walkers’ two-story living room, and a long, elegantly appointed table was placed at the center of the room—stretching out before the home’s stunning, original stone hearth. The table, draped in white, featured exquisite, all-white floral arrangements from Growing Wild, striking the perfect tone for the evening about to unfold.

As the Herweghs and their guests arrived, they were greeted on the terrace with champagne, raw oysters served with vials of housemade Tabasco and tray-passed hors d’oeuvres including sunchoke custard with smoked char roe, baby heirloom tomatoes, crispy burrata and “faux” gras with pomegranate and toasted brioche. All appetizers were prepared by Chef Neal and Chef Greg of The Strand House.

As the party was gaining steam, with the Herweghs and their guests mingling and enjoying a glorious coral sunset over the Pacific, another “party” was happening out back in the staging area in an enclosed, brick-lined courtyard adjacent to the Walker’s kitchen. The chefs, all very good friends, were chatting and joking, chopping and prepping their courses … each helping one another. The camaraderie was palpable.  

Along with the six culinary maestros, Chef Walter Manzke was joined by his wife, pastry chef Margarita, and she too was part of the chef team as they all collaborated to create the sumptuous meal. When asked why they graciously offered their time for this private dinner, Chef Michael Cimarusti replied, “One factor that brought us all together is that guy there,” playfully pointing at Michael Zislis. All of the chefs expressed their genuine pleasure to be there to support Michael and especially to support the MBEF.

As the orange sun finally descended below the distant skyline, the guests were seated for dinner. Michael welcomed them as the first of the six-course meal was served. Adding a remarkable personal touch, as each course was served, the master chef who prepared the course and a few of the other chefs joined the servers in personally presenting the food to the guests. 

Michael then introduced each chef as his course was served and gave a bit of his backstory. Each chef explained to the guests the details of how they prepared the course. Michael also shared tidbits about the wine chosen to pair with that course. 

With each meticulously and artfully prepared course, Bethany, Chip and their friends could not contain their pure enjoyment. They marveled and raved about every dish … as each bite seemed to be a revelation to them. Describing the evening, Bethany uttered more than once, “It’s an awesome thing.”  

As the dessert course was served and the evening wound to a close, Michael Scott, Bethany’s dad, shared with the table, “Very few meals are memorable. Looking back on my life, maybe I’ve had five or 10, but this dinner is memorable.”

 

THE MENU

Fluke Tartar

Osetra caviar, yuzu, smoked sesame, brioche

Chef Michael Cimarusti

2012 Araujo “Altagracia” Napa

 

Carpaccio of Beef

endive marmalade, summer truffle, pâté feuilletée

Chef Timothy Hollingsworth

2011 Moscato Azul, “La Sirena”

52% Napa, 48% Paso Robles

 

Wild Striped Bass

sprinkled with seven seeds, braised shelling beans, porcini mushrooms

sweet clover infused zebra tomatoes

Chef Josiah Citrin

2010 Flowers Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast

 

Rabbit Confit Ravioli

artichoke, pea tendrils, parmesan fondue

Chef Greg Hozinsky

2010 Shatter Grenache, France

 

Japanese Wagyu

chestnut squash purée, red wine braised figs

Chef Neal Fraser

2007 Brion Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa

 

Coffee and Donuts

chocolate, caramel, hazelnut

Chef Walter Manzke

Grgich Hills “Violetta” Late Harvest 

Riesling, Napa

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