By: Sharon Bellock
It’s a Wednesday afternoon and I am running ahead of schedule for my meeting at The Langham Chicago. As I pull up to the hotel, the notable ball lights that adorn the underbelly of the entrance immediately bring warmth on this cold, damp Chicago day. Perhaps today’s weather is a brief insight to a typical day at The Langham’s flagship property in London? The likeness is uncanny.
From the doorman’s sincere greeting to the friendly “hello” from a kind lady wearing the Langham’s signature pink Chanel-inspired suit, my Five-Star / Five-Diamond experience had already begun. Each year AAA reviews 28,000 hotel properties, granting only 0.4% of those with a Five-Diamond status. This honorable distinction, for 4-years running, along with being TripAdvisor’s #1 Traveler’s Choice Hotel in the United States (2015) and Travel + Leisure’s #6 Best Hotel in the World (2014), sets The Langham Chicago apart from all others.
Arriving on the 2nd floor I am immediately struck by the sprawling 22-foot high floor-to-ceiling windows and the contemporary décor that adorns the lobby. Lasvit’s art installation, featuring over 500 glass-blown pebbles, dangles above me like champagne bubbles settling into place. I’m at the Langham to have afternoon tea with their Public Relations Director, Kelly Chrischilles.
We’re meeting in the Pavilion, where the photo-ready tablespace in front of me balances traditional teaware with a modern pattern, perfectly fitting for The Langham Chicago. This teaware is the very reason for my visit. The Langham Chicago, and their London property, call this mid-afternoon experience “Afternoon Tea with Wedgwood.” Wedgwood falls under Fiskars Brands, Inc., an exhibitor in the International Home + Housewares Show. I love the synergy between two drastically different partners of our annual trade show. In speaking with Wedgwood personnel, there is a natural link between tea and Wedgwood that began in the mid-18th century when Queen Charlotte of England commissioned their brand to design drinkware specifically for tea. That commission eventually led Josiah Wedgwood, who founded the company, to be appointed as “Potter to her Majesty.”
The trend of tea drinking spread throughout England, most notably in households of royals and the upper class. In fact, the Duke and Duchess of Bedford eventually began collecting Josiah Wedgwood’s teaware. The Duchess is viewed as the originator of afternoon tea, creating a new meal to place between evening dinner and what we know as conventional lunch. All this rich history has been embraced by Wedgwood and is immortalized in their teaware patterns, available for modern-day tea lovers, like me, to enjoy.
When Kelly arrives, her “Plains” state roots and West coast hotel experience amplify her already pleasing personality. While never having met before, our conversation is organic and takes us through the afternoon tea experience. In reviewing the intricately planned Afternoon Tea Menu, I wisely choose “The Langham Blend” as my first tea selection, which they define as “A sophisticated twist on a classic English breakfast.” It is delightful.
As a plate with four incredibly savory sandwiches are brought to the table, Executive Sous Chef Damion approaches. His genuine smile warms my heart as much as the tea. A humble perfectionist, Damion explains that it is important for his food to be different, but memorable. The Miami native acquired his passion for food while cooking with his aunt, and so began his impressive culinary career. Each sandwich introduces a playful series of flavors in a designated counter-clockwise order. My favorite was the “Herb Butter Poached Nigerian Prawns, Bacon-Onion Jam, Avocado, Frisee” as one savory bite leads to a sweet undertone from the bacon-onion jam. Before Damion departs, he tells me much thought goes into the transition from savory to pastry. Both should be bold and stand alone, while still being an accompaniment of one another.
Upon completing our first course, we select another tea before scones and desserts. Kelly gently suggests the “Children’s Tea,” defined as “South African rooibos blended with sweet, fruity rhubarb for a unique taste and aroma.” I happily accept the suggestion and remember that Kelly mentioned an Alice in Wonderland-themed tea they did last Spring. Thinking of Alice’s tea party and watching the other patrons around the room makes me conclude that afternoon tea can be enjoyed by anyone.
As our delicate dance continues, I meet Executive Pastry Chef Scott Green. He exudes a cool confidence as his charisma draws me in. The entry into his craft is atypical of most chefs. During childhood, he wasn’t interested in cooking or baking and neither were ever a hobby; but after watching a pastry competition documentary, the rebel in Scott left behind an art school scholarship to begin his culinary journey. (For more on Scott’s artistry, visit his Devil’s Food Kitchen blog.)
Known as “SG” to friends and colleagues, Scott explains that serveware and teaware are important to the entire Afternoon Tea experience; they must be durable, but beautiful to display his delectable creations. Each piece must fit into the entire experience. Just as a chef’s flavors need to make sense, so does the serveware, and Wedgwood’s collection meets this challenge.
I am quick to note that Scott’s pastries are equal parts delicious and attractive. My first choice was more traditional, the Maple Brown Sugar Scone with clotted cream imported from Devonshire along with Scott’s homemade Black Fruit Jam. However, the standout for me was the “Plum Tartlet, Vanilla Sweet Dough, Plum Jam with Bourbon Brown Butter Cream.” Maybe it is the sugar and plums, but now I want to come back for their Christmas Afternoon Tea later this month.
As Afternoon Tea concludes, I appreciate how these two Chefs come together to blend their distinctly different, yet complimentary, culinary feats together. This ideal pairing is not only noticeable in their food, but through their equally kind and respectful words about one another. It was a rewarding sensory experience and a great pleasure to meet an approachable team at this highly accredited hotel.
It was satisfying to indulge in our afternoon tea using the majestic pieces for which Wedgwood is known. Their focus on beauty, design and craftmanship is what makes them one of our hallmark exhibitors in the International Home + Housewares Show (South Building, Booth #3247).
As Wedgwood’s Tea Curator Bernadine Ty has said, “Tea leaves, like perfume, are a great vehicle of storytelling.” I couldn’t agree more, Bernadine, I couldn’t agree more.
Want to experience The Langham Chicago yourself? Reserve your hotel room now for the 2018 International Home + Housewares Show at their early-bird rate of $258. Rate increases on January 1, 2018.