It is not quite often that freelance writers and artists are afforded an opportunity to attend a first class, all amenities included ball like the princesses in Disney films, so excuse whatever gushing may occur in the following paragraphs.
The American Lung Association's 2012 Derby Eve Gala was a world class event, benefiting an issue very close to home for many Kentuckians. In a state where lung disease effects over 141,000 residents on Medicaid alone, there is clearly a need to support an organization with the ability to research and advocate for those struggling to breathe. Thanks to the Gala's sponsors, Kindred Healthcare, Pharmerica and Brown-Foreman, all proceeds from the event go directly to the American Lung Association.
As stated by Carolyn Embry, during a brief yet powerful break from the festivities, "This event raises over $50,000 for the American Lung Association."
The cocktail hour deceptively began like most cocktail hours in Louisville -- with beer, wine and cocktails skillfully crafted by Seelbach bartenders with Brown-Forman liquors. Ladies and men arrived in their finest frocks, most of them appearing like they were not caught in the downpour that had occurred only hours prior at Oaks.
The event's elegance truly began to lift up its ball gown and show off some glass slippers when the hors d'œuvres began appearing from behind the doors. Adorable slices of brioche donned with perfectly turquoise Benedictine perched on top were the first to arrive. Served by an incredible team of friendly, considerate and smiling staff members, the Benedictine was fresh, cool and had tiny bits of cucumber, which enhanced the crunch provided by the brioche.
Then, perhaps about 20 minutes and two vodka cranberries later, the staff arrived with mini crab cakes topped with a belly button of remoulade sauce. These were served attached to skewers poked through the sides of the delicate crab cakes, so drunken fingers didn't end up squashing these delectable little treats.
After a decent helping of crab cakes, another vodka cranberry or two and great conversation with the medical professionals at the party, many of whom attend every year, the doors to the Medallion Ballroom magically opened. Inside they revealed a gorgeously decorated ballroom and the Atlanta Allstars began playing, "Celebration," by Kool and the Gang, reminding guests what kind of party this was going to be.
Set upon the Five Diamond backdrop of the Seelbach Hilton Hotel, the Southern Soiree theme of the Derby Eve Gala was positively breathtaking. Behind the doors of the Medallion Ballroom, there were chairs draped in fine white linens, tablecloths with lovely patterns detailed in red and gold topped with ornate centerpieces resembling chandlers from the mid 1800's surrounded by an arraignment of white flowers and green leaves. Each independent piece worked perfectly with the others to create delicate and decadent tone.
According to staff members at the Seelbach, setting up the intricate room for this party began with the arrival of a first shift a 7:00am on Oaks day. Several shifts of people were involved in placing chairs, setting the tables and eventually lighting candles and placing salads.
Guests reluctant to abandon the cocktail area were reminded by efficient and service-oriented staff member Rose to, "Please take your seats, there's another bar inside," and inside they went!
The first course was Kentucky Bibb Lettuce with crispy country ham, braised pearl onions, toasted pine nuts and maple hazelnut vinaigrette. The ham easily accented the lettuce and the tangy, yet slightly sweet dressing. The dressing did not exactly scream out, "I have maple syrup in me!" It was a little more gentle than that.
While some were eating salad, others were dancing, or finding out which corner the bar was hidden in, or asking their server for a wine to accompany their meal. By now the vodka cranberry count has moved to a second hand.
As the next two courses arrived, the band took a break, and a DJ played a few tunes as the meal became serious.
The first course was sort of like a tease. When the princess first meets the prince, but she's still dressed in rags, or she hasn't been captured by a monster yet. The second course was the actual ball, where the prince and princess dance together, cheek to cheek and tell themselves stories about how they'll be together forever.
Seriously, this meal was amazing.
The second course consisted of a duet of medallion of beef tenderloin with country ham bourbon jus and egg dipped chicken with pepper gravy. The Seelbach kitchen didn't stop there. These meats were accompanied by a Boursin cheese grit cake, asparagus spears, and honey glazed baby carrots. This is where the sparks of love flew.
The beef was incredibly tender, cutting into it with a regular dinner knife was easy and natural. The chicken was flavorful and juicy. If given an opportunity, there were probably a great number of guests who would have proposed to the Boursin cheese grit cake, which was firm, mildly cheesy and a great friend to both of the meats on the plate. Everything in the main course paired incredibly well with a Diet Coke and Miller Light.
The Seelbach and the Derby Eve Gala weren't quite done with our hearts at this point. The final course was still waiting to embrace us. The dessert served to guests of this Southern Soiree had Kentucky written all over it: bourbon bread pudding topped with cinnamon and a bourbon marinated candied walnut. This seemingly tiny dessert was served warm, and eating it sent waves of pleasure throughout all those who tasted it.
After such a clever menu that turned out to be quite the sensual, satisfying, soul-food reminiscent meal, many people would expect the entire room would fall asleep. Well, there are two things to remember about this party. One- this is Derby time so no sleeping is allowed unless to heal hangovers, and two- the Atlanta All Stars came back from their break just in time to get everyone out of their seats!
The dancing continued with lots of interactivity from the Atlanta All Stars, and more drinks from the bar in the corner. The horns section got onto the dance floor, women were encouraged to get low during a lively rendition of "Shout," and the trumpet player did splits to James Brown. The Atlanta All Stars were, without a doubt, a world class band worthy of this world class party. The All Stars also announced at the end of the evening that the American Lung Association was wise enough to lock them into playing next year's Gala.
This party was magnificent, and the writer and photographer would like to extend thanks to the American Lung Association, the stellar Seelbach Staff, and especially miss Rosie who took great care of us. We hope to return next year!
All Photos by Rosella Pearl