table set for dining

What, Where, Why: Dinner for 14 at the Evanston home of Michael Kornick, chef/owner of three-star MK, The Restaurant. A fundraiser for the Museum of Contemporary Art, this was one of a series of events held in art collectors’ homes.

Who: Stacey Empson and her husband, Eric Ruderman, were hosting the evening, using the dinner to celebrate Empson’s birthday the day before. (Not incidentally, the couple’s first date had been at MK.) They invited eight lucky friends; four other guests were in attendance.

Kornick on prep: "I started yesterday morning at 11:30 and worked till about 12:15 last night. Erick [Williams, the sous chef from the restaurant] came over and helped me. We had a break, my kids came home, we had dinner. I cooked the asparagus yesterday, made the crepes [for the beggar’s purses]. Someone at the restaurant shucked the English peas, but I made the pea soup. It was fun."

Day-of-party personnel: Chef Kornick, wife and business partner Lisa Koch-Kornick, Williams, executive chef  Todd Stein, pastry chef Kate Neumann, and waiters Armando Gomez and Erik Wetz.

man eating

On task: Koch-Kornick, a natural hostess, set the table, made the herb butter, served glasses of iced Fresca with lemon to the pre-dinner personnel, and left the prep scene early, reluctantly, to make a playlist of music for the evening.

On the table: Circa-1920 linens, four wine glasses per place setting, and a long, conversation-friendly low centerpiece of pincushion protea, yellow roses, and assorted succulents.

Soundtrack: Pink Floyd and Kenny G for prep; Miles Davis, Bob Marley, and St. Germain during the hors-d’oeuvre phase and through dinner.

Thanks for the memories: "The food and wine were exquisite, the whole evening just very special," birthday girl Empson said afterward. "Michael is a master storyteller with a great sense of humor. Every course had a story and
a history. He kept us intrigued and entertained all evening."

Tips from the top:

  1. Don’t just sit there."Dinner parties need a little bit of movement," Kornick says. "Hors d’oeuvres and then dinner is good; going to a different room for dessert is good."
  2. Beware of using too much butter. "Nobody wants to leave a dinner party feeling sick," Kornick says.
  3. Your mother was right, as usual. "We always clean up as we cook," Williams says.


The Menu
A (cakeless) birthday dinner to beat all birthday dinners


Hors d’oeuvres
White and green asparagus with green and white dressing, morels and bone marrow on toast with truffle sea salt, and caviar beggar’s purses (right)
Wine pairing: Pierre Peters, Cuvée de Reserve, Blanc de Blancs, Le Mesnils-sur-Oger n.v.

First Course
Crudo (sliced raw fish) with black olives, red Hawaiian sea salt, preserved lemon, and fava beans
Wine pairing: Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley 2003

Second Course
Maine lobster salad with peppercorn and brandy mayonnaise, chilled English pea soup with mint and juniper
Wine pairing: Meursault, Genevrières, premier cru, Domaine Latour-Giraud 2000

Third Course
Alaskan halibut with artichoke barigoule, spring garlic, and barigoule vinaigrette
Wine pairing: Calera Pinot Noir, Reed Vineyard, Mt. Harlan 2001

Fourth Course
Roast guinea hen with trumpet mushrooms, herbed barley risotto, and sage-scented broth
Wine pairing: Araujo Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Eisele Vineyard, Napa Valley 1998

Fifth Course
Rhubarb and Greek yogurt with shortbread cookies and orange blossom honey
Wine pairing: Kracher, Beerenauslese Cuvée 2004

Photography: Chris Guillen

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