Ron and Cheri Fromm have a tradition of throwing parties in the fall, complete with tent in case of rain. This year, midfall was dry and golden and warm; no tent needed.
And their autumn party was different this year in other ways, too. Earlier in 2008, the Fromms' daughters, Dawn Gilbertson and Dana Borchert, made a proxy bid for their parents at a COCA auction fundraiser — and won. The prize? A party, documented in the pages of AT HOME, that would include the services of Robust's chef Greg Maggi as well as owner Stanley Browne, a certified sommelier. But rather than just gather friends for a five-course dinner with wine — and put up a tent — the Fromms transformed their auction win into a gift. They assembled a guest list that included the heads of various cultural institutions (including the Science Center, The Rep and The Sheldon) as well as up-and-coming young professionals at Brown Shoe, where Mr. Fromm serves as CEO. The idea? To intermingle these two groups in order to plant the seeds for a new generation of St. Louis arts philanthropists.
The Fromms' two daughters have inherited their parents' dedication to the arts. Mrs. Borchert serves on the board of The Rep Set, a "young friends" group that aims to get more twentysomethings out to see Repertory Theatre shows; Mrs. Gilbertson teaches ballet and modern dance at COCA. Both women bustled through the house, helping their mother put the finishing touches on the party before guests arrived for cocktails in the courtyard at 6 p.m.
"This is like the part of getting dressed where you have your whole outfit already together," Mrs. Fromm said, smiling, as she lit the candles. "And you're putting on the perfume."
Chef Maggi and Mr. Browne had been hard at work in the kitchen for a few hours already, and that didn't even include prior reconnaissance missions to scope out a work space in the Fromms' kitchen. Not only did they need an efficient place to prepare five courses for 36 people, they also wanted the plating area to be attractive — guests would be routed through the kitchen to get a peek at the chef as he worked.
As dusk fell, guests gathered under trees in the lush courtyard and around the lit swimming pool, sipping cocktails and listening to live jazz.
"There's quite the story behind that frog," noted guest Peter Mangione, pointing out a striking garden sculpture as he headed into the courtyard with his wife, Nancy. "It's jade. It's very heavy. He came all the way from the factory in Beijing with Ron and Cheri the day they bought it — you can see he's got I Ching coins carved all over him."
"He's a very lucky toad," Mrs. Mangione, amused, agreed.
Indoors, low-lit sparkling dining rooms awaited the guests, who would file through the kitchen at 7 p.m. for dinner. Mrs. Fromm had worked out color themes to complement the décor in each room: silver and white in the dining room, pomegranate and gold in the living room and chocolate brown and burnt orange in the family room. Under the dining room's glittering crystal chandelier, she'd set the table using her collection of silver platters as chargers. "I had to borrow three or four from friends," she admitted with a grin. "The settings are Party Arts and Premiere, the flowers were done by Living Art, but the glassware is mine." And by no means did she play it safe with the seating — the whole idea of this soiree, after all, was to introduce people to each other. "We tried to keep husbands and wives in proximity, but not at the same table, though I had to mess that up a little," she laughed. "Mostly, we wanted good conversations. So we matched up people who I thought would be interested in the organizations that were here, who had kids connected with the Science Center, The Rep, The Magic House ..."
Magic house, indeed; as the improvised dining rooms twinkled in the candlelight and mild, autumnal air blew in from the courtyard, the first slam of the screen door in the kitchen echoed through the hallway. The rooms already felt electric, even though the first guest had yet to find her seat.
Ron and Cheri Fromm
The Fromms' home in Ladue
Friends from Brown Shoe, COCA, The Science Center, Sheldon Concert Hall, The Magic House, Missouri Botanical Garden, The Rep, Siteman and the Saint Louis Zoo
Greg Maggi, Robust
Stanley Browne, Robust
Jeana Reisinger, Living Art
Jazz musicians Rick Haydon and Zeb Briskovich
Cocktails and dinner with arts administrators and young professionals, making connections to facilitate a new generation of cultural patrons
Hawaiian Bigeye Tuna with Quinoa and Wasabi Cream
Chilean Sea Bass with Chorizo Black Beans and Avocado Mousse
Merguez-Encrusted Colorado Lamb with Mascarpone Cheese Polenta and Amarena Cherries
Dry-Aged Beef Tenderloin with Boursin Pomme Purée, Red Wine and Black Truffle Reduction
Caramelized Apple and Dried Cherry Brioche Bread Pudding with Crème Anglaise and Creamy Caramel
Courtesy of Robust's chef Greg Maggi
Avocado-Crusted Halibut on Chorizo Black Beans
2 avocados (peeled and pitted)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Salt and pepper
Mash avocados to break apart and create a smooth texture. In a stainless-steel bowl, whip cream to stiff peaks. Add in avocados and beat till smooth. Add spices and season with salt and pepper.
4 6-ounce halibut fillets
1 dried ancho chili
Salt and pepper
Using a spice grinder, grind chili to a powder. Season fillets with chili powder, salt and pepper. Heat a skillet over high heat. Coat bottom of pan with a thin layer of oil. Allow oil to heat for 15 seconds, then place fillets in pan. After 3 minutes (or when first side is browned), flip the fillet. Allow to brown on second side (about 3 more minutes). Remove fish from pan. Brush top of fillets with 1/4 cup of avocado mousse. Place fish back in pan and brown under the broiler. Avocado mousse should be a golden brown.
Chorizo Black Beans
15 ounces canned black beans
4 ounces spicy chorizo sausage
1/4 cup onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon jalapeño pepper
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
Coat skillet with oil and heat over medium heat. Add chorizo and sauté, breaking large pieces apart. Add onion and sauté for 2 minutes. Add garlic and jalapeño and continue sautéing for 2 more minutes. Add beans, cilantro and salt. Using a blender, purée till smooth.
Place 1/2 cup of beans on each plate, and top with halibut fillet.
Sausage-Encrusted Lamb Loin with Black Pepper Polenta and Red Wine Jus
Sausage-Encrusted Lamb Loin
2 links Merguez sausage (lamb sausage)
1/4 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
1 8-ounce lamb loin
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup flour
Season lamb loin with salt and pepper. Coat a sauté pan with oil. Heat. Add lamb loin and sear approximately 1–2 minutes on each side. Loin should be golden on both sides but uncooked on the inside. Cool and reserve.
Cut casing on sausage, and squeeze contents into a stainless bowl. Add egg and bread crumbs. Mix thoroughly to combine. Set aside.
Dust lamb loin with a small amount of flour.
Using your hands, firmly pack sausage mixture around lamb loin. End result should look like a very thick and uniform link of sausage. Refrigerate at least 1 hour to cool and allow sausage wrap to firm up.
Add a little oil to a nonstick sauté pan and heat. Add sausage-wrapped lamb loin to pan and carefully sear, rolling lamb in order to sear all the way around. Sear until lamb is golden brown. Remove from pan.
Cook lamb loin in a 350-degree oven for approximately 15 minutes for medium rare.
Black Pepper and Romano Cheese Polenta
1 cup polenta
3 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
Bring stock to a boil. Add cream, salt and pepper. Gradually stir in polenta. Cook, stirring constantly (to avoid lumps) until polenta thickens and pulls away from sides of pan. Stir in cheese. Remove from heat and serve.
Red Wine Jus
4 cups red wine
2 cups port wine
1 apple, peeled, cored and diced
1 pear, peeled, cored and diced
1 orange, peeled and segmented
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped carrot
Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for approximately 1 hour or until liquid is reduced to 1 cup. Strain mixture through a cheesecloth-lined sieve.
Remove lamb from oven. Let it rest for 5 minutes, then slice into 3/4-inch thick rounds. Spoon 1/4 cup of polenta into center of each of four plates. Place lamb loin atop polenta. Spoon red wine jus over lamb.
Apple and Dried Cherry Bread Pudding with Caramel Bread Pudding
4 cups heavy cream
12 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 Granny Smith apples (peeled, cored and diced)
1 cup dried tart cherries
2 (16- to 17-ounce) loaves old-fashioned white bread, unsliced, crust trimmed, cut into cubes
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons butter
Melt butter in a skillet. Over medium heat, cook apples for 5 minutes. Add cinnamon, nutmeg and 1/4 cup of the sugar. Continue cooking for 5 minutes.
In a mixing bowl, mix cream, yolks, remaining sugar and vanilla. Mix in apples, cherries and bread.
Let rest for 1 hour. Pour into a 9- by 13-inch pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 50 minutes.
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup cream
In a sauce pot, mix water and sugar. Boil until sugar dissolves. Continue boiling till liquid sugar turns golden brown (this may take up to 10 minutes). Turn heat off and add cream. (Be careful — mixture may let off steam or bubble over.) Whisk cream till mixture is smoothed. Serve over bread pudding.