NEW BUFFALO — Chef Jackie Shen collaborated with an old friends from her Chicago days to transform her normally comfortably casual café at 802 W. Buffalo St. into a magical setting for a French Cuisine Dinner to benefit the New Buffalo Township Library on Sunday, Oct. 19.

Limited to fewer than 40 seats, guests were greeted by formally dressed sommeliers Ron Spears and his wife Marge — now Union Pier residents who often can be seen riding their tandem bicycle — and a glass of 2012 Riesling Vielles Vignes, the first of several wines they paired with Jackie’s menu for the evening. Gathered on the outdoor patio, guests were served the first course consisting of a crunchy cheese biscuit to go with the Riesling.  Servers for the evening included Jackie’s staff members Nicole Rudd, Ruth Perez and Angelica Sanchez.

The gathering then moved inside where guests were seated at three white clothed communal tables to enjoy the feast which began with a fresh, garden vegetable ratatouille accompanied by a rose. The main course, served with two Bordeaux wines, consisted of filet of beef, butternut squash and warm cabbage slaw.  This was followed by a serving of cheese and red grapes. Throughout the dinner, Spears delivered an entertaining narrative about wine and his personal hero Thomas Jefferson. Spears donated all of the wines served throughout the evening.

Chef Jackie was not visible until she popped out of the kitchen to personally serve her dessert of chocolate truffle and chocolate chip cookie, already boxed to go. In her typical style, Shen took advantage of the opportunity to plug her next fundraiser for the Friends of New Buffalo Library: a November benefit themed around favorite holiday side dish and the memories to go with which she will select from entries submitted by local residents.

Throughout the dinner, Spears — delivered an entertaining narrative about French wines and his personal hero Thomas Jefferson who is credited with bringing French cuisine and wines to America.

Spears shared his admiration of Jefferson, whom he refers to as TJ, noting that he was a true Renaissance man who, after helping to write the Declaration of Independence, serving as the nation’s third president and as a Congressman, traveled extensively in France. He said he shares Jefferson’s belief that wine is a necessity of life.

Deeply in love with French cuisine, Jefferson made a deal to free his slave James Hemmings if he would master the art of French cooking. Hemmings not only mastered the recipes and techniques himself, he also taught his brother after which he was freed. This story is told in the book “Thomas Jefferson’s Crème Brulee” written by Thomas J. Craughwell.

Library Director Grynwich thanked all the guests for coming and Spears and Shen for preparing such a wonderful event.  Later, she described Shen as “like a tidal wave” and said she was grateful for all she and her staff do for the library throughout the year.  She was recently honored with a plaque in her name on the library’s wall of major contributors for the many fundraisers she has held to benefit the library.

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