LACO á la Carte: Finland

LACO á la Carte

“LACO à la carte,” five intimate, elegant fundraising events presented by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, pair exclusive musical performances with delectable international cuisine in the spectacular private homes of the Consuls General of Australia, Austria, Finland, France and Germany. Providing a decidedly cosmopolitan flair to LACO’s wide ranging musical offerings, each unique evening features representative cuisine complemented by a salon performance spotlighting LACO musicians and guest artists. The LACO à la carte series, now in its sixth year, illustrates that music truly knows no boundaries. Proceeds help support the education outreach programs of LACO, proclaimed “America’s finest chamber orchestra” by Public Radio International.

Juha Markkanen, Consulat of Finland | soloist Juho Pohjonen | LACO Exe. Director Rachel Fine
photo by Jamie Pham

On Thursday, September 18th I was lucky enough to experience the refined cuisine and culture of one of the world’s northernmost countries at the first “LACO à la carte” of the season hosted by The Honorable Juha Markkanen, Consul General of Finland. Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen offered an intimate recital of Grieg Ballade in the Form of Variations, Op. 24 and Sibelius Finlandia, Op. 26.

Executive Chef Sirpa Welch
photo by Jamie Pham

Finnish Executive Chef Sirpa Welch is looking forward to representing her country and its culture through cooking authentic Finnish cuisine and preparing specialty mixed drinks for the evening. Having gained an appreciation for traditional Finnish food from her mother and grandmother, Sirpa has been cooking her whole life and has been sharing her passion for food with guests at the Finnish Consulate for over 15 years.

Just look at this amazing feast on my plate:

Finnish Cuisine at LACO á la carte
Finnish Cuisine by Sirpa Welch

The salads were just salads, though my mother raved about the beet salad. I was all about the potatoes au gratin, the cabbage roll with lingonberry sauce (the only way to eat cabbage rolls, in my honest opinion) and the pilaf with its complex texture. Above all though was the gravlax, something I never thought I would admit to as I don’t usually like cooked salmon. I don’t know how Chef Sirpa prepared this salmon, but it was the best salmon I’d ever eaten and I’m still full of regret over not going back for seconds.

On with dessert:

Finnish Cuisine at LACO á la carte
Finnish dessert plate

My favorites from this selection were the cloudberry cream puffs and fresh berries. I haven’t had an overwhelming sweet tooth as of late, so these milder picks really hit the spot.

I attend these events not solely for the food, but to honor what I’ve loving dubbed “The Summer of Beethoven” – the summer of 1997 when my best friend KD had me listening to classical music during my visit. And Civil War songs, but that’s another story for another blog post. Kate’s love for anything is infectious, as typical between best friends, and while an all out love affair with the classics never happened, I do have an appreciation and respect for them. The music at any LACO event is always impeccable, and the a la carte series never fails to enchant me, due to the intimacy of each event. I feel like I’ve been magically transported to another time and place, when salon performances of the latest and greatest musicians were all the rage.

Finnish Cuisine at LACO á la carte
Cheers, LACO! To another year of beautiful music and delicious food!


Event: Taking a Chance on Love with LACO at The California Club

Taking a Chance on Love - LACO Invitational

It started with a “save the date” email and from there escalated into one of the classiest evenings to date at one of the most exclusive venues in all of Los Angeles. An evening of vintage glamor with promises of live entertainment from members of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, a promising prodigy, fine dining, vintage cocktails by a master class bartender and dancing with the best vintage band in all of Southern California, Dean Mora and his Orchestra. I did not even think twice about saying yes.

The event was held at the illustrious California Club in downtown Los Angeles. Ah. Let that just sink in. Perhaps I should explain. When I was a teenager and my weekends comprised of going into Downtown Los Angeles for books, books and more books at the L.A. Central Library, my eyes would invariably wander off to the Italian Renaissance Revival building that shares the same city block as the library itself. Ivy covered, guarded, shrouded in mystery, I had to know more about it. While I never specifically hunted out its secrets, it always remained in the back of my mind. I’d hear the occasional whisper of what it was all about, but never first-hand confirmations. Now I had the chance to step inside myself, thanks to a chair member who just so happens to be a member of the exclusive club, established in 1888 and held in the Robert D. Farquhar building since 1930.

You guys, this couldn’t be more relevant to my interests if a blinking, neon sign that said “RELEVANT” was fixed above my head.

LACO honorees David K. and Kay Duke Ingalls and Jennifer and Royce Diener.
image credit: Lee Salem Photography

The annual gala honored long-time supporters Jennifer and Royce Diener, the former of which served as President from 1991-1995 and Chair from 1995-1998; and David K. and Kay Duke Ingalls, served as President from 1980-1983 and Chair from 1983-1988.

LACO Taking a Chance on Love - The California Club
Honoring David K. and Kay Duke Ingalls

LACO Taking a Chance on Love - The California Club
Silent and Live Auction

Over $315,000 was raised from attendance, donations, silent and live auctions items, benefiting the LACO concert series, radio broadcasts and community engagement programs.

LACO Taking a Chance on Love - The California Club
Alex Liberman tending the bar

When my guest and I arrived, we had only a few minutes to steal a vintage cocktail crafted by master bartender Alexander Liberman. Sneaking into the private bar area, we were able to grab the absinthe champagne cocktail:

LACO Taking a Chance on Love - The California Club
Vintage Absinthe Champagne Cocktail

Cocktail in hand, we dodged into the main hall where everyone gathered for the entertainment portion of the evening. Now, I am about to publicly reveal something to you: I have a fascination with lights fixtures. So, just to illustrate how glamorous of a place The California Club is, and the level of class we’re dealing with here, feast your eyes on this chandelier:

LACO Taking a Chance on Love - The California Club

LACO Taking a Chance on Love - The California Club

The concert itself was beauty for the ears, with select pieces from classics Brahms, Bach and Puccini and contemporary masters Duke Vernon and George Gershwin.

LACO Taking a Chance on Love - The California Club
Piano Quartet in G minor – Johannes Brahms
Armen Ksajikian (cello), Paul Colletti (viola), Margaret Batjer (violin) & Jeffrey Kahane (piano)

tenor Joshua Guerrero & pianist/violinist Ray Ushikubo
image credit: Lee Salem Photography

After the concert, it was back to the main area for the silent and live auction while hors d’oeuvers and cocktails were passed around.

LACO Taking a Chance on Love - The California Club
Whiskey Smash
Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey, fresh strawberries & mint, lemon & orange juice, sugar & 3 dashes of Angostura Bitters topped with soda.

My second favorite cocktail of the evening (the champagne absinthe cocktail being my first; sad I only managed to have one!), the Whiskey Smash was sweet and fresh, two adjectives that make for a happy Rachael.

LACO Taking a Chance on Love - The California Club
Deviled Eggs & Caviar

LACO Taking a Chance on Love - The California Club
Vienna Sausage in Puff Pastry

LACO Taking a Chance on Love - The California Club
Wild Mushroom Tartelette

Along with these morsels was smoked salmon on pumpernickel and smoked Gouda toast. Everyone swarmed the poor servers, going after their favorite bites. Both my guest and I took a particular shine to the Vienna sausages in puffy pastry, while I also could not get enough caviar dolloped deviled eggs.

French 75 Cocktail - LACO Gala
French 75 Cocktail
Champagne – Gin – Lemon Twist

The cocktails were ever flowing, with Alex Liberman and his assistant Andrew working diligently in the bar. A New York City transplant, Liberman and his partner Kevin Felker run Bar Craft Consulting, offering their combined 30 years of experience to cocktail enthusiasts – be it for private functions, classes or tastings. A true believer in the resurrection of classic cocktails, Liberman offers handmade cocktails at the highest level of execution. He can be found at The Assosciation in Downtown Los Angeles where he is not only the bar manager, but offers cocktail enthusiasts an opportunity to delve deeper and refine their knowledge through a 6 or 8-week class series.Beginning with bar basics, tools and techniques, with each subsequent week examing individual spirits, their history and use in classic and contemporary cocktails. Whether you opt for individual classes or sign up for the entire series, you can expect to gain a wealth of knowledge and mad technical skills.

Ah, but what’s that sound? Time to close up the auction, put down the cocktail and head into the dining hall for our main meal, prepared by the on site chefs at The California Club.

LACO Taking a Chance on Love - The California Club
Seared White Sea Bass
garlic spinach – shizo broth

Light, delicate and with just a whisper of sweetness, this first course could not have been more on the mark. It was a generous enough portion to make me feel like I had really been able to taste and appreciate all components of the dish, while still leaving me wish I had more in my bowl. I ended the dish feeling inspired to dig up a recipe and try it out in my own kitchen.

LACO Taking a Chance on Love - The California Club
Veal two-ways: Roasted & Braised
mushroom ragout Bourguignon – rosemary polenta

There wasn’t a single item I disliked on this plate. I’m not one for veal, and I never go out of my way for it, but this was supple and heavenly. If I had to chose which method of preparation I enjoyed more, I’d have to say the braised veal as it positively melted in my mouth. The mushroom ragout Bourguignon was so spot-on; the perfect accompaniment. Grandma would be proud; I most definitely cleaned my plate.

LACO Taking a Chance on Love - The California Club
Floating Islands
vanilla bean sauce

While everyone was tapping out, I managed to keep going and just about devour this trio of meringue floating on an ocean of crème anglaise. This vintage French dessert harkens back to the days of glamor and glitz; where dancing to a big Jazz band was all the rage. Speaking of which…

LACO Taking a Chance on Love - The California Club
Dean Mora and his Orchestra

While I appreciate the splendor of the classics, the music of the twentieth century “Big Band” era is what keeps my foot tappin’ and and my heart a dancing. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to Dean Mora and his Orchestra live twice before and I do count this lucky third viewing to be a charm indeed. My friend Jessica and I were among the last few to vacate the dance floor; cutting a rug with a few other jitterbugs as Dean Mora and his Orchestra played one more time. Just for us.

Jessica and I at LACO Gala
My friend Jessica (left) & myself in our vintage flare

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra strives to enrich and connect our community through intimate and transformative musical experiences which exemplify and foster artistic excellence, education and innovation. For upcoming performances, please click here.

LACO Taking a Chance on Love - The California Club
Obsessed, I tell you.

Event: LACO à la carte Series

I could really never be accused of being a fancy-pants kind of person with fancy-pants tastes and inclinations, but I have been known, from time to time, to wipe the dust off my finest duds, slap on a couple pounds of make-up and run a brush through my hair for an evening of class. Case in point: the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra “à la carte” series, which runs annually to raise funding for LACO: benefiting their community engagement programs as well as the concert series so they may continue to bring music and joy to others.

What exactly is an a la carte series, you ask? From the press release: “Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) offers music lovers an opportunity to enjoy five intimate, elegant and entertaining “LACO à la carte” fundraising events pairing delectable international cuisine and exclusive musical performances in the spectacular private homes of the consuls general of the Czech Republic, Armenia and Austria as well as at Pacific Palisades’ historic Villa Aurora (Germany) and a magnificent private estate in Pasadena (China). Adding a special flourish to the season and illustrating that music truly knows no boundaries, each event features a different style of cuisine complimented by a salon performance by LACO musicians and guest artists.”

Out of the five programs, I was able to attend two: Germany à la carte, at the historic Villa Aurora in Pacific Palisades, and Austria à la carte held at the Brentwood home of the Austrian Consul General. Each night featured salon performances – which is an old world carry-over term for a small group of musicians performing in an intimate setting. I would guess that no more than 80 people seemed to be in attendance at both the Germany and Austrian a la carte evenings, so I count myself lucky to have been able to be there!

Food for both the Germany and Austrian à la carte was provided by The Spot Gourmet.

Germany à la carte

Official Description: Concertmaster Margaret Batjer is spotlighted on the occasion of her 15th anniversary with LACO at a cosmopolitan evening showcasing the culinary riches of Germany hosted by Villa Aurora in Pacific Palisades. This spectacular artists’ residence and historic landmark, set high on a hill overlooking the Santa Monica Bay, is described as a “true castle by the sea” by German novelist and 1929 Nobel Prize laureate Thomas Mann, who, along with playwright Bertolt Brecht and filmmaker Fritz Lang, is one of many famed émigrés to have socialized there with such icons as Charlie Chaplin. Batjer performs a selection of works tailored to the enchanted evening.

It was quite the journey to get up to Villa Aurora as it was at the tippy top of a hill, the very opposite of where attendees had to park. A van took people in sets of six, winding up and up until we arrived at a very unassuming gate. Going through said gate delivered guests to a fabulous tiled courtyard of the Moorish artists retreat Aurora Villa.

LACO Germany a la carte
Descending to the Courtyard

My favorite architectural feature of Aurora Villa:

LACO Germany a la carte
Carved Wooden Beam Heads

Wine, beer and water was available alongside appetizers whizzing by on carried silver trays. It took all of my will not to just follow them into the kitchen, or wait directly outside of the kitchen door so I could pounce on each fresh tray.

LACO Germany a la carte
Hollywood Blonde Beer. Even better with lime.

LACO Germany a la carte
Salmon & Sour Cream on Savory Pancakes

LACO Germany a la carte
Cobblestone Chardonnay Wine

LACO Germany a la carte
Bratwurst with Prepared Mustard

The back patio offered spectacular views of Los Angeles, stretching all of the way to the Pacific:

LACO Germany a la carte

LACO Germany a la carte

As much as I’d like to stick around and admire the views, it’s time for the salon performance.

LACO Germany a la carte
Piano in the Salon

LACO Germany a la carte
Margaret Batjer on violin

Our program featured Margaret Batjer on the violin, performing Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 3 in G major, Op. 30 in three movements, and Brahms Violin Sonata in D minor, Op 108 with four movements.

After the lovely music, it was time to gather to the library for the buffet set up by The Spot Gourmet.

LACO Germany a la carte

LACO Germany a la carte

LACO Germany a la carte

My favorites included sauerbraten, roasted potatoes, baby carrots, rustic breads and the black forest chocolate cookie (with gooey cherries in the center!). My lovely assistant (AKA Mom) loved the salmon and cabbage rolls with sauerkraut.

We sat among German-born, the Chamber Music enthusiasts and patrons of the Arts, and the wife of the German Consul General. Our conversation took an interesting turn with Helena, an 80-something year old tapestry artist who had words of female empowerment and encouragement for both my mother and I. Her doting younger husband stood by her all evening, a human shield as Helena shuffled along with her walker. They were the cherry on top of an already enchanting evening.

Austria à la carte

Official Description: Karin Proidl, Consul General of Austria, hosts an evening at the stately Austrian residence in Brentwood that illuminates the dazzling cultural and musical vibrancy of Vienna with a lively performance by LACO Principals Josefina Vergara, violin II, and Nico Abondolo, bass, who are also husband and wife. Vienna, with its delightful sidewalk cafes, pastry shops, prized beers and white wines and compelling art, music and architecture, is also celebrated as a haven for gourmands with the emergence of a sophisticated culinary movement, embracing fresh, seasonal and local produce.

The Austria a la carte evening was definitely more intimate, as it took place in proper residence, owned by the Austrian government to house their Consulate Generals for something around forty years now.

Consul General of Austria in Los Angeles Karin Priodl and LACO a la carte Chair Mahnaz Newman
Photo Credit: Jamie Pham | via Laura Segal Stegman Public Relations

Representing her country with a welcoming grace and an air of strength every woman in position of power ought to possess was Austrian Consul General Karin Priodl. My feminist senses were tingling just knowing this single, childfree woman was our hostess of the evening. I had to fight the urge to hug her and cry, “ROCK ON, SISTER! SOLIDARITY!” Refinement is an acquired skill for me.

The evening started with h’orderves, wine and conversation.

LACO à la carte: Austria
Cheese Toast

I’m probably the best frenemy of an event server; I’m always happy to see them, but I want them to put a halt to their procession through the crowd so I can get in a quality photograph. Unfortunately, most of my photos were taken as other hungry attendees descended on these quick bites.

LACO à la carte: Austria
Proidl Wines

Soon it was time to gather in the salon and enjoy the set by husband and wife duo: Josefina Vergara, violin II, and Nico Abondolo, bass. It goes without saying that they are dizzyingly talented, but Nico also charmed us with his wit and commentary throughout the performance.

LACO Principal Violin II Josefina Vergara and Principal Bass Nico Abondolo in performance
Photo Credit: Jamie Pham | via Laura Segal Stegman Public Relations

The program was broken into five sprightly pieces: GF Handel – Sonata VIII for violin in four movements; Francois Couperin – Troisieme Concert in A major from Concerts Royaux in five movements; JS Bach – Sonata for violin and Continuo in E minor, BWV 1023 in two movements; Bela Bartok – Selections from 44 Duos for violins, arranged by Nico himself; and Astor Piazzola – Five Tangos for violin and double bass.

All of that culture certainly whips up an appetite, so it was time to head over to the buffet and enjoy some Austrian food provided by The Spot Gourmet Catering.

LACO à la carte: Austria

LACO à la carte: Austria

LACO à la carte: Austria
Dessert Tier

Once again, Spot Gourmet knocks it out of the park with this authentic Austrian feast. As I was sitting among both Austrian-born and Austrian-descendants, I heard first-hand just what was spot-on. My favorites of the night include: pork loin with dijon, red cabbage salad, spaetzle with garnet yam and chocolate cake with kirsch.

For me, the highlight of these event is not the food (GASP!) nor the wonderful music, but the lovely people I sat with at each meal and got to know over food. Music and food: uniting foreign relations since the dawn of civilization. Well played, LACO. Well played.

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra