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Take an inside look at an "Ultimate Dinner"



THE ULTIMATE DINNER

Ten Courses by Hans and Patti Röckenwagner

This dinner is special to us because it is a culmination of many, many years of collecting, designing, building, shopping and dreaming. It is designed to be a culinary adventure, as well as a feast for all the senses. It is meant to be enjoyed for special occasions that mark milestones. We debuted this table at what is a milestone for us - our fifteenth year anniversary (May 18, 2000).

Many of the items presented at the dinner are rare collectibles found only in the most exclusive boutiques. Other items are ordinary pieces that, taken out of context and combined with other pieces, create a setting that is both elegant and whimsical. Our intent when searching for items to use for the dinner was to find creative ways to compose each course with unusual silverware, plates, trays, utensils, glassware and sometimes, toys.

Our years of searching have led us to flea markets, design studios, galleries, and even the Home Depot. When we couldn't find precisely what we had in mind, we tried to make it by hand. Exactly six of each piece was purchased or made, and will be used solely for these dinners. For this reason, we will hold only one Ultimate Dinner a night and limit the number of guests to exactly six.

To this day, we continue to find interesting plates, platters, utensils, ingredients and themes on which to base more courses. Our house is full of items, which have not yet found its place in our dinners! As such, these dinners will be an ever-evolving project that will change based on seasons, new items found and creative ideas born.

Hans on The Ultimate Dinner:

StarChefs: Let's hear about the tasting dinner you create called "Ultimate Dinner." How do you conceptualize it in your mind?
Hans Röckenwagner: The "Ultimate Dinner" came about because there are always pieces that you see and that you would like to use in a restaurant but never have the right format for it: art pieces; flatware; china; anything. The idea came about because I'd really like to do a dinner where I have the ultimate say in everything the people have in front of them, from the plate to the silverware, to the trays to the table to the lighting. But in a fairly small setting because you can't do it for a whole restaurant. I can only do it for a few people. Because some of the items we use in this dinner are extremely expensive or collectible.

SC: There's something that sounds anachronistic or almost regal about what you're describing. It's as if you're going back to Versailles or something for a sumptuous feast in the 18th century.
HR: It's kind of like that, yes.

SC: Is it true that the actual table at which this "Ultimate Dinner" takes place is something that you built?
HR: Yes. Woodworking is actually my hobby. And it's a big part of the experience because the table is very big. It's oversized for six people. It could easily accommodate 10, but I wanted there to be enough room. Each setting has its own lamp that can be attached or detached from the table. Each person has their own personal drawer next to them where they may have some salt and pepper shakers or they may have some napkins; some mints: all kinds of paraphernalia that you need or don't need at dinnertime.

SC: Is it easy to fill that table? Can you explain the format?
HR: The format is this: we have anywhere between 10 and 15 courses. Each course has different silverware, different plates - if we use plates. Most likely, it will be presented on a tray that's custom-made just for that particular course. Let me give just one example. There's one course that's called the "'80s Lobster." This is a giant oversized plate - a white plate, very plain. There's a little lobster on a corncake in the middle with a lemon sauce and some lemon confit. To top this off, there's a little wind-up lobster toy that spins on the plate around the lobster itself. So people get this plate and they lift up a little piece of cucumber and this toy lobster goes around in a circle.

SC: So is this dish something of a parody of Nouvelle Cuisine - the tiny plating, the huge plates?
HR: Exactly, exactly.

SC: You do this every night?
HR: The table seats six people, and we won't accept more. If someone wants to do five people, they still pay for six people.

SC: And they reserve the table at what hour?
HR: Any time they want - preferably early, because it takes three to four hours. Everything is custom-made. We have one server and one runner and two plus myself in the kitchen just for that table.

SC: You devote particular attention to that table and your chef de cuisine is in charge of the rest of the restaurant for that night?
HR: Exactly, that's the way it goes. Also, we have this little distillery I brought in from Germany. At the beginning of the meal you set it up and pour a bottle of red wine into it and you fire it up. And at the end of the meal you have your custom-made distilled brandy that you can serve right then and there.

SC: So you don't always have that every night, then.
HR: No, it's fairly new. Right now, we're seeing it about once or twice a week. But we really only want to have it Monday through Thursday.

SC: What is the price for the table?
HR: Right now it ranges between a $1,000 and $1,200 depending on which wines you pick, it can go up a little bit. That's sort of the starting range, which for what we do for the table - it's a good deal.

THE TABLE

Hans designed and built the table at our home-garage-workshop. It is made of a wood used frequently in the Biedermeier era and is marked by small knots in the wood that resemble birdís eyes, thus the name, birds eye maple. It is 80 inches in diameter and took approximately three months from start to finish.

The table has a few custom features that differentiate it from any other dining table. Each guest has a drawer that contains all that is necessary to enjoy the meal, including his/her own salt and pepper shakers, a bread plate, a journal and pen for note taking, mints and toothpicks.

Another unique feature of Hans's table is the lighting. Rather than having one main overhead lighting fixture, Hans custom-designed and engineered individual lamps to create a dramatic, yet soft area of light for each guest. Although the lamps are affixed directly to the table, they were designed to come out and be stored when not in use. The table is also lit from beneath.

THE PURSE STOOLS

Hans created a special purse stool as an antidote to the ever-present problem of women never having a proper place to put their purses. Hans lit the table from beneath so that there would be plenty of light for women who need to find items in their purses.

The fabric pillows were handmade by Patti Röckenwagner.

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