A Summer Dinner Among the Vines | Thoughts on Hospitality

I just finished writing a blog post for our winery project, The Storm Cellar, telling a few stories and showing off some of the gorgeous photographs that Irene Durante captured for our very first dinner in the vineyard back in the middle of June. The evening couldn’t have been more beautiful, and the food any more delicious.

This dinner was the first time that we formally released our freshly finished wines into the world. There was a moment, when Steve and I were walking behind the guests, as they were seating themselves at the long, communal table we set, right in the middle of our Riesling vines. We paused and watched the scene of smiling faces, full wine glasses, friends and family, and a prep station ready to plate. Tears filled our eyes, as we pulled each other close.

Our dream was being realized.

All of the hard work, late nights, early evenings, uncertainty, and excitement had lead up to this moment that we had been waiting for for nearly three years.

Steve and I recently dined at Tavernetta, Bobby Stuckey’s newest restaurant located in Denver’s Union Station. Stuckey is known for his iconic, Boulder restaurant, Frasca, which recently won the 2019 James Beard Award for Outstanding Service. Frasca was the only Colorado nominee finalist and winner at what is basically known as the “Oscars of the Culinary World.”

I bring up Stuckey, who is also a Master Sommelier, because of his vocal, and now internationally recognized, stance on the practice of hospitality. He mentions in a Denver Post interview that the concept of hospitality is “not about what we do to somebody; it is about how we make them feel.” Every night, at each of his restaurants, what his team figuratively does is “open the door and give every guest a bear hug.”

Steve and I couldn’t agree more with this philosophy of placing the guest experience above the tasks we execute. We could plate up the most beautiful food, serve the most exquisite glassware, source the most colorful flowers, and host a dinner in the most breathtaking setting, but without making our guests feel welcomed and special, the entire event would be flat, disappointing, and unmemorable.

The guests at the June dinner never felt the hectic buildup behind the evening’s festivities. They enjoyed the hard work that made the evening possible, but they never knew that we had to shovel hundreds of pounds of gravel for the tasting overlook, hours before the first guest arrived. That we were prepping and plating up the passed appetizers in our kitchen, until the first guests arrived. That my friend JD and I totally spilled five gallons of lemon-infused water in the laundry room, just as we needed to fill the guests’ water glasses.

I think I’m still soaking up some of that water.

I laugh about the day’s craziness now, but it was a full-on, panic-inducing @$#% show. A @$#% show that no one bought tickets to attend. It didn’t matter that our contractor got strep and couldn’t finish his projects (you just don’t point it out). It didn’t matter that THREE of our mower-weeders malfunctioned (you just use a weed-eater to mow the row where the table was placed). It didn’t matter that I didn’t get a shower in for the dinner or that I hadn’t washed my hair in ten days (you just put on some lip gloss, spritz your hair with water, and smile).

The show goes on. Again, it’s not about what we do. It’s about how we make people feel.

This applies not only to restaurants or wine bars or home dinner parties. Practicing the art of hospitality applies to every business – to how we treat our friends, even strangers. If more businesses treated their clients with respect and worked on connecting them to their business, making them feel important and heard, then more businesses would thrive.

I remember a gentleman at our neighborhood Whole Foods back in Denver, who was in charge of sweeping the floors and keeping the store clean. His smile was always present, and he made eye contact when he said hello to me. That small act of kindness that he consistently and concertedly displayed made my shopping experience more pleasant. If I was having a challenging day, I knew I could count on his bright light to give me a boost. He wasn’t “just a janitor” – he was a person, who practiced the art of hospitality, or, was what Bobby Stuckey has coined, a “hospitalian.”

And that smiling, kind janitor made me a loyal customer.

I hope and trust that the guests who attended our dinner felt the same way. I’ll close with the menu we enjoyed that evening, along with a special thanks to those who made the event possible. Thankfully, I got to wash my hair at the end of the night, and I even clocked in 8.5 miles from running around during dinner service!

Bonus points for sneaking in a workout. 😉

THE MENU

The “Pau Hana” Hour

Tamarind-Cured Hamachi | citrus, ponzu, scallion oil, puffed and caramelized rice, pickled ginger crisps, and arbol chili threads.
North Fork Bruschetta | sourdough, Japanese turnips, chèvre, radish, basil, and snap peas
2018 Rosé of Pinot Noir

The Seated Vineyard Dinner

COURSE ONE

Grilled Spot Prawn | wakame, avocado, sesame, ginger and soy, garnished with edible flowers, micro greens, ikura roe, and crispy garlic, accompanied with kiyuri namasu.
2018 Rosé of Pinot Gris

COURSE TWO

Braised Kahlua Pork Shoulder Slider | Bishop Quality Goods Hawaiian rolls, charred scallion slaw, with Asian pear and micro cilantro, accompanied with a long rice noodle salad of spring vegetables, mint, radish, and rice wine vinegar.
2018 Dry Riesling

COURSE THREE

Pineapple + Red Chili-Glazed Gray Feather Farms Chicken | marinated pineapple, coriander dipping sauce, accompanied with baby bok choy adobo with toasted sesame, crispy garlic, and micro sunflower.
2018 Chardonnay

COURSE FOUR

Sourdough Hawaiian Monkey Bread | toasted macadamia nuts, tamarind caramel, cinnamon crème anglaise.
Apple Tart | browned butter, Meyer lemon, Point Reyes bleu cheese crumble.
2018 Reserve Riesling

Incredible thanks to the following people, in random order, who made this dinner possible:

To Chef Brandt Bishop for doing a bang-up job and serving the most delicious, eye-catching, island-inspired courses.
To Chef Josh Niernberg of Bin707, Tacoparty, and Dinnerparty for generously lending us the beautiful dinnerware,
To Marieta of Momorose Flowers for growing and crafting the most beautiful bouquets,
To Irene Durante of Irene Durante Photography for gorgeously capturing the evening’s festivities,
To JD Crais for cheffing it up and helping us prep our passed appetizers,
To Vanessa and Jeff for driving from Denver, for giving us last-minute hands and much-appreciate prep help, and for celebrating V’s birthday with us,
To Clint and Sarah for delivering hamachi, setting up tables, and chopping #allthesnappeas,
To Chef Bryan Redniss of The Rose for providing that insanely delicious said hamachi,
To Hotchkiss Rentals for providing the tables and chairs,
To Chef Josh (again) for allowing us to purchase head-on prawns (unobtainable in our valley) for Chef Brandt’s first course,
To Jasmine and Ryan, our long-standing friends, for driving over from Denver to attend this dinner,
To Keelan Smith for valet-style driving one of our guests over to the dinner table in our John Deere Gator, when he couldn’t walk there himself, and serving the evening with her effervescent personality,
To Ashley Trego for rallying to help us out last minute and look good while doing it,
To Serena Leary for helping us serve, prep, shovel gravel, and smile throughout the night,
To Small Potatoes Farm for providing the freshest snap peas, herbs, and turnips,
To Western Culture Farmstead and Creamery for raising the friendliest goats and crafting the most delicious chèvre for our bruschetta,
And to the amazing guests who attended this beautiful dinner and said the kindest of words – you all are WHY we do this!!

Lastly, to my amazing partner and husband, Steve Steese, for being the ultimate life-mate, friend, confidante, business partner, support system, and my creative other half. I love you and love this ride we are simultaneously building and riding on together!!

Have a beautiful week ahead! We’ll be prepping for our next wine dinner this upcoming Friday, and I’ll be spending time with my mom, who is visiting from Florida. I’ll sneak in a nap within the next few days, somehow.

XO,

Jayme

Jayme Henderson

Occupationally speaking, I am a sommelier and mixologist at a busy, upscale Denver restaurant. I am lucky enough to spend most days tasting, pairing, and creating, alongside my cherished guests. I am also a contributor at the Kitchn, where I write about wine and gardening, tour cooks' kitchens, and interview innovative growers and makers. When I am not wearing those shoes, you can find me in my garden, preserving, painting, designing, and documenting my experiences along the way. I'm currently learning calligraphy and trying my best at home brewing. And I am seriously obsessed with my cats. And rosé.

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