COPPER HARBOR -- Chef Malcolm Hudson's Dec. 13, 2008, version of "Babette's Feast" at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge would have to be called Keweenaw's most extraordinary event of the year. Not only did Malcolm imitate the feast presented in the film of that title -- course by course, with a perfectionism learned and refined during his own years of cooking in France -- but his labor of love attracted a whole community of volunteers who worked together to make it a successful fundraiser.
"I had some of the best aid and help in the kitchen I've ever had in my life," Malcolm said. "This is about community. We're all in this together."
Peg Kauppi, co-owner of the Mariner North and one of the organizers of the event, who worked with several of her own staff helping Malcolm in the Mountain Lodge kitchen, commented on working with Chef Malcolm.
"Malcolm Hudson is a complicated and amazing person," Peg said. "His respect and love for community family borders the intense. Working with him, one can see he is talented and appreciates the efforts of others, while he obviously considers straying from the genuine to be a desecration. Unforgettable!"
Peg Kauppi, right, co-owner of the Mariner North and one of the chief organizers of Malcolm's feast, works on salad preparation with Isabel Wescoat of Copper Harbor as Malcolm puts finishing touches on one of the main courses. Click on photos for larger versions. (Photo © 2008 Michele Bourdieu)
Malcolm and his team spent not just hours but long days on the dinner preparations. He said he had actually started the puff pastry for the main course the previous Sunday in order to be ready for this meal. Friday, Dec. 12, was "a big day" of about 16 hours.
"We made a lot of progress yesterday," Malcolm noted. "I've got a good team -- people doing a really good job. I'm so pleased."
Chef Malcolm gives last-minute directions to his wait staff just before the serving of his version of "Babette's Feast." Pictured here, from left, are Isabel Wescoat, Rachael Slagh, Tony Schwenn, Sam Raymond, Photographer George Desort (behind video camera in background), Aaron Rogers, Malcolm, Greg Mielcarz (in background, right) and Kristen Kauppi. (Photo © 2008 Michele Bourdieu)
Joe Kirkish, a connoisseur of both film and gourmet cooking, said Malcolm had previously made this feast, was itching to do it again and found a good reason -- in the fundraising effort to raise a match for a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant. If awarded, the grant would allow Keweenaw County and the Copper Country Trails Club to acquire up to 1900 acres of land adjacent to the Mountain Lodge to be used for silent sports trails.*
The $100-a-plate gourmet meal at the Lodge was held the same day as Copper Harbor's first annual tree lighting ceremony, bazaar and bake sale in town.
State Representative Mike Lahti presided over both the tree lighting in town and the official ribbon cutting ceremony for the trails near the Mountain Lodge. Lahti and his wife Sharon also stayed to enjoy Malcolm's feast, which was preceded by the showing of the film Babette's Feast in the new Conference Center addition to the Mountain Lodge.
State Representative Mike Lahti, left, and his wife, Sharon, right, shared a table at the feast with Ole Van Goor of Eagle Harbor, second from left, owner of the Dapple Gray Inn, and Andy and Marilyn Murtagh of Rabbit Bay. Not pictured, but also at the table were Ole's wife, Ruth Van Goor, and Diane Eshbach. Charlie Eshbach was busy taking photos of the event. (Photo © 2008 Michele Bourdieu)
The film, a contrast in cultures, based on a story by Isak Dinesen, tells the story of Babette, a Parisian chef who prepares an incredible, ceremonious French meal for the rather straight-laced residents of a remote Danish village.
Joe Kirkish, center, chats with guests enjoying their apéritif in the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge lounge before the showing of the film Babette's Feast. (Photo © 2008 Gustavo Bourdieu)
"I introduced the film to about 100 eager people, who watched as the French chef built her meal in great detail," Kirkish said. "Finally, everyone moved from the community room to the dining room, and the feast was held as closely as possible to match what was seen just minutes before."
In the new community room of the Mountain Lodge Conference Center, dinner guests watch the Danish characters in the film Babette's Feast, learning to enjoy French food and wine from Babette, a former Parisian chef. (Photo © 2008 Michele Bourdieu)
Several guests commented on the mouth-watering effect of seeing the film before the actual dinner.
"I loved seeing the movie and then having such an elegant meal that so closely resembled Babette's," said Elizabeth Flynn of Hancock Township. "I was really hungry watching the movie, but the actual feast was truly worth the wait."
Before the meal, violinist Libby Meyer, Copper Country Suzuki Association director and instructor, plays classical pieces in the Mountain Lodge dining room. (Photo © 2008 Michele Bourdieu)
More raves of appreciation came Jay Green of the Keweenaw Nordic Ski Club, accompanied by his wife, Phyllis Green, Superintendent of Isle Royale National Park.
"Fabulous dinner!!" Jay said. "I didn't expect it to be the same and look the same as the feast in the movie, but it did except for the Beluga caviar which was wisely substituted with a delicious cold smoked lake trout. I can't wait for Chef Malcolm's next fundraising dinner."
Malcolm's meal began exactly like the one in the film -- with Potage à la Tortue -- Turtle Soup -- accompanied by an Amontillado -style sherry.
"Nothing short of superb!" Kirkish noted.
Besides working hard as one of the main organizers for this "Extraordinary Event," Sam Raymond, Copper Harbor Trails Club vice president, joins the kitchen staff to help out by mincing shallots for the beurre blanc sauce for the blinis. (Photo © 2008 Jillian Betterly of JB Photography. Reprinted with permission.)
Next came Blinis Demidof -- Buckwheat Blinis with Caviar, including smoked Lake Trout in honor of Lake Superior, served with a Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Sauvignon Blanc.
On his Web site Malcolm's culinary notes written in advance of the meal indicate he made a slight variation on the Blinis of the film, since the actual Blinis Demidof (blini, beluga caviar, chopped egg, chives) -- "vaguely Russian" -- does not exist in France, Babette is French and the Beluga whale should be protected.
"And while it is indeed decadent and seems sophisticated, it is in no way elegant; in fact, it is inappropriately odd considering Babette’s sensibilities," Malcolm writes.
Malcolm notes his substitution is beautiful and easy to serve.
"And the flavors, in proper balance, should explode on the palate," he adds.**
The main course, Caille en Sarcophage -- Quail in Puff Pastry with Truffles and Foie Gras -- has the same preparation as the center-piece of the film, he notes, with a small modification of the stuffing.** At the Lodge, this was served with a Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon.
Greg Mielcarz, foreground, of Copper Harbor, a cook from the Mariner North and volunteer for "Babette's Feast," and Jim Wescoat of Copper Harbor work together preparing the puff pastry for the main course, Quail in Puff Pastry with Truffles and Foie Gras (Photo © 2008 Jillian Betterly of JB Photography. Reprinted with permission.)
In truly French fashion, the salad -- La Salade Pelligrine -- followed the main course. Kirkish notes it had "a subtle, delectable dressing."
Anitra Bennett, who cooks for the Keweenaw Co-op in Hancock, mixes the roasted garlic and shallot vinaigrette dressing for the salad. (Photo © 2008 Michele Bourdieu)
Les Fromages (Selection of Cheeses) followed (with some authentic refills of Cabernet in some cases since in France one is expected to finish drinking the wine before the salad but to continue red wine with fromage). Malcolm's notes add these cheeses were imported from Hirt in Detroit.**
The dessert was Baba au Rhum avec Figues (Rum Cake with Fresh Fruit and Figs), served with nothing other than champagne.
Enjoying the dessert, Baba au Rhum avec Figues (Rum Cake with Fresh Fruit and Figs), with champagne are, from left, Tom and Sandy Collins, part-time residents of Lac La Belle; Don Keith, Keweenaw County Board chair; Carol Rose, Keweenaw County commissioner and founder of Keweenaw Krayons; Jane Van Evera of Calumet; Jim Billings of Copper Harbor; and Felix and Virginia Fournier of Laurium. (Photo © 2008 Michele Bourdieu)
"Baba au Rhum, mounded with fresh cut fruit effectively neutralizing the sweet cake, is a winter tradition in Nordic lands," Malcolm writes; and so he followed the tradition.**
The champagne was also part of an after-dinner toast to Malcolm, followed by nothing other than a standing ovation -- these last two additions added by a very joyful crowd of 90 or so guests. Winners of the silent auction -- based on donations from local business sponsors of the event -- were announced at this time.
Appreciative diners offer a toast to Chef Malcolm Hudson, standing, right, with his co-organizers, Peg Kauppi of the Mariner North and Sam Raymond, Copper Harbor Trails vice president and owner of the Keweenaw Adventure Company in Copper Harbor. (Photo © 2008 Michele Bourdieu)
It was an important event for the Mountain Lodge, which, up to now, has only been open in the warmer season. With the recent addition of the Conference Center, it will soon be open year round.
"This is really exciting," said Cormac Ronan, manager of the Lodge. "There's a lot of energy and a lot of support here tonight. All those folks are volunteering their time."
Darlene Bjorn, assistant manager and banquet manager of the Lodge, noted she, Carol Autio and Carolyn Stevens had decorated the Christmas tree in the dining room.
Darlene Bjorn, center, Keweenaw Mountain Lodge assistant manager and banquet manager, poses with Carol Stevens, left, and Sara Autio, next to the Christmas tree they decorated for this event -- the first Christmas tree ever in the Lodge. (Photo © 2008 Michele Bourdieu)
"The three of us decorated the first Christmas tree ever at the Mountain Lodge," Bjorn said. "We bought it at the Mohawk Superette at 9 p.m. last night."
Paul and Bobbie Freshwater of Eagle Harbor sent some after-dinner comments on the feast via email:
"Our comment would be that 'Babette's Feast' was a tour de force by the Copper Country Trails Club and their supporters. The movie, introduced by Joe Kirkish in his usual engaging way, was a welcome change of pace from the 'faster and louder' film genre so popular today. And the recreation of the feast by Chef Malcolm Hudson was the culinary highlight of the season, for which he received a standing ovation at nearly midnight. The planning and hard work of the Trails Club and their supporters was evident by donations of food, labor and venue which cut their costs to almost nothing and yielded more than $9,000 in matching funds for trails grants. This exceptional evening, together with the day's earlier dedication of the new trails and the illumination of 50,000 holiday lights in Copper Harbor by Representative Mike Lahti, made us proud to live in Keweenaw!"
Actually, according to Sam Raymond, Copper Harbor Trails Club vice president and one of the event organizers, the total amount raised could exceed $10,000 once all has been tallied.
"When combining the proceeds from the dinner, silent auction and donations from people who could not attend, we should be in the neighborhood of +/- $10,000 by the time it's all squared away," Raymond said. "Definitely a great start to the fundraising campaign and a significant amount we can build upon!"
Carol Rose of Mohawk -- newly elected Keweenaw County Commissioner, artist, photographer and Keweenaw Krayons founder -- said her $100 for the dinner was an investment for future generations.
"I'm just so glad we're claiming the land for the people and making it accessible for the Keweenaw County residents and visitors," Rose said. "I could not NOT afford $100 toward a land trust for my children and grandchildren. I have four grown kids, so at Christmas time each one is going to get a card from me saying their gift is part of my contribution to preserve the land for them and my grandkids."
Avid mountain biker and Copper Harbor Trails Club board member Tony Schwenn, who volunteered with the wait staff, summed it up for his generation: "This is awesome, seeing all this going on."
Mac Marzke, a member of the Keweenaw County Trails and Recreation Committee, was equally enthusiastic.
"I think it's just a phenomenal event," Marzke said, "and probably the most rewarding is the sense of community that everyone has."
Christa Walck of Houghton commented on adding another memory of the Mountain Lodge to her Keweenaw experiences.
"I love the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge--it was the first place I ever stayed in the Keweenaw before I moved up here," Walck said. "It was wonderful to see it used for such a gala holiday fundraiser. We need more events like this to get people out."
Film buff and critic Joe Kirkish concluded the "Extraordinary Event" was so successful the idea of another similar evening for next year is burgeoning.
Table with candlelight at the end of "Babette's Feast." (Photo © 2008 Joe Kirkish. Reprinted with permission.)
"I have a few suggestions, from the hilarious, slightly naughty Like Water for Chocolate to the Japanese satire Tampopo," Kirkish said. "Wonder if Malcolm could top this one with one of them?"
Kirkish -- who, like many of the guests, spent the night in Copper Harbor rather than driving home -- said Malcolm could be found the next morning chatting with Lodge Manager Cormac Ronan at the Pines Restaurant.
"He was relaxed, still basking in the glory of his success and raring to try it all over again -- next year," Kirkish said.
Meanwhile, the deadline for the Trust Fund grant application is April 1, 2009. Anyone wishing to donate to the funds for the local match can send a check to the Copper Harbor Trails Club at the following address:
Copper Harbor Trails Club
Attention: Land Acquisition Fund
PO Box 37
Copper Harbor, MI 49918
* See Part 1 of this series of two articles, "Copper Harbor's 'Extraordinary Event': Part 1, Trail Dedication," posted Dec. 15, 2008.
** Visit Malcolm Hudson's Web site, The Community Table, for more comments on his version of "Babette's Feast."
Thanks to photographers Joe Kirkish and Jillian Betterly of JB Photography for contributing some of their photos of this event. Visit Jillian's Web site to see more of her photos of "Babette's Feast." She is also currently featured on coppercountry.com.
The volunteer organizers of this event -- Malcolm Hudson, Peg Kauppi and Sam Raymond -- wish to thank the following volunteers:
Kitchen: Cory Osienczonek, Anitra Bennett, Jim Wescoat, Greg Mielcarz.
Bartenders: Jeff Gilmore, Don Kilpela, Jr.
Wait staff: Kristen Kauppi, Isabel Wescoat, Rachel Slagh, Amanda Weis, Alissa DuPuis, Sam Raymond, Aaron Rogers, Tony Schwenn, Brian Cygnan.
In-House Printing: Carol Meilahn.
Silent Auction: Diane Eshbach.
Keweenaw Mountain Lodge Personnel: Cormac Ronan, Darlene Bjorn, Sara Autio, Karita Latvala, Steve Baasto.