Upscale food and wine society enjoys laid-back approach on Texas Coast
Limbo competitions and hula hoop contests aren’t usually part of a gourmet dining experience. But a group of fun-loving islanders have no problem with the idea.
“We do like to shake it up a little here on the Texas Gulf Coast,” said Jan Pozzi, the elected leader, or bailli, of the Galveston chapter of La Chaine des Rotisseurs, an international food and wine appreciation society that dates back to the 13th century. “Although the chaine’s overarching goal is to share the joy of exemplary dining experiences — and many other groups favor much more formal formats — ‘fun’ is always an essential item on our local chaine menus.”
Founded in 1248 as “the royal guild of goose roasters,” the international organization today has about 25,000 members representing 80 different countries. Even Pope Francis has been inducted into the organization, along with a “who’s who” of top chefs, winemakers, restaurateurs, sommeliers, hoteliers, gourmets and gourmands. Each member wears a ribbon of a particular color to denote his or her profession, area of expertise or level of involvement within the organization.
“Throughout the world, it’s considered to be quite a special group,” member Bob Davis said. “The camaraderie provided is an excellent way to get to know people from other countries — wherever a member travels, he or she will be welcomed as one of their own by local chaine members.”
Although the Galveston chapter — known as a bailliage — was founded in 1991 with only 17 members, it is today among the nation’s most successful groups. That’s no surprise to longtime member Urs Schmid, who served as executive chef at the Bob Smith Yacht Club during its heyday, and only recently retired from that same position at Shearn’s Seafood and Prime Steaks atop the Moody Gardens Hotel on the island.
“The chaine is a natural for the island,” Schmid said. “Galvestonians are very knowledgeable and appreciative of good food and wine, plus they love to get together for a good time. It also gives chefs an opportunity to do their very best work as they pair wine — and sometimes beer — with world-class food and island hospitality.”
Interest in group membership is strong on the island.
In Galveston, with a population of less than 50,000, the group has had to cap its membership at 70; and there’s a waiting list, Pozzi said.
“By contrast, New York currently has only 89 members,” she said.
Local chaine activities include four events a year, with the venue rotating among local restaurants. In addition to the group’s two formal black-tie dinners, there are two less formal events — “Mischief Night” scheduled around Halloween and a seafood extravaganza, complete with hula hoop and limbo bar, in the summer.
“In keeping with this being a let-your-hair-down event, we had a Blues Brothers theme at this year’s seafood feast, and many people — even the band and the hotel staff — came in costume,“ Pozzi said.
Following a tradition introduced by Schmid of serving the foods for the seafood feast in “waves,” Robin Murphy, the hotel’s new executive chef, prepared some 30 different dishes, plus a variety of domestic and imported wines. Dessert featured blue velvet cheesecake, Blues Brothers dipped strawberries, and a white chocolate mousse topped with blueberry macaroons.
The chaine is not all play, however. To ensure the continuity of culinary excellence, the national organization has established a foundation that provides scholarships and sponsors competitions for students studying the culinary and oenological arts.
“It’s been said that our society is ancient, but our focus is visionary,” said Pozzi’s husband, James, who as a national chaine representative holds the title of argentier des Etats-Unis. “Both Galveston College and Alvin Community College have received funds from the organization, so we are educating for the future, one plate at a time, right here in Galveston County.”