On May 16, Rienzi’s ballroom will be transformed with elegant seating, sparkling Champagnes, and a fine French meal carefully crafted by Chef Brandi Key of Clark Cooper Concepts. The evening event, Widows and Winemakers: A Culinary Experience featuring the Women of Champagne, celebrates the women who revolutionized the celebratory beverage of Champagne. Chef Key chatted with me about creating a menu that brings 19th-century France to Houston.
Chef Key, what can guests expect at this special dinner?
We want them to take a journey through time and learn about the incredible women who created and influenced the Champagne houses over the years. We are focusing on four of the great Champagne houses, and we’ll tell the story by combining food and atmosphere. Our goal is for everyone to forget we’re in Houston, in 2017, and transport us to a different time and place.
Which Champagne on the night’s menu is your favorite?
Bollinger’s La Grande Année is one of my favorite wines of the night. It has an amazing history. The first Grande Année was bottled in 1976 because of the exceptional year and fruits harvested. The tradition has remained for a Bollinger Champagne to receive this name only in the best of years, and this excellence shows in the bottle. (Fun fact: It’s also the Champagne that James Bond used to drink!)
Do any of the stories about the night’s featured winemakers stand out to you?
Madame Clicquot was revolutionary in so many ways, both in the industry and for what she did for the house. She represents one of the first, if not the first, businesswomen at the time. She is also credited with making the first Champagne rosé—and rosé is my favorite, so she has that going for her!
Where did you get ideas for the menu and Champagne pairings?
Champagne is an amazing wine region. It was easy to draw from the stories
and traditions. Each of these women is fascinating in her own right, with a strong business sense and elegance that translated into the menu. I pulled all of the oldest French cookbooks in my library and flipped through recipes and pictures of how banquets were fashioned during each time period. This menu not only pays homage to the past, but also creates a progression through time and ends on a modern note of what French cuisine is today. It’s a huge challenge and part of why I’m so interested in this dinner.
What about Rienzi complements the dinner and beverages you’ve planned?
If you’ve never stepped foot in Rienzi, you should. The first thing you will feel is goose bumps. Everything about Rienzi makes it the perfect backdrop for this dinner. It’s elegant, old but modern, and sleek—all at the same time. I can't imagine any place other than a grand ballroom like Rienzi’s to hold this dinner!
Enjoy Chef Brandi Key’s dinner, along with Champagne and stories, on May 16! Learn more about Widows and Winemakers: A Culinary Experience featuring the Women of Champagne at Rienzi.