Chef Eric Braun grew up on Lake Wawasee where his family owned property at various locations. His father also owned one of the first wooden Chris-Craft boats on the lake and, in days long gone, used it to take guests from the Spink Hotel on boat rides around the lake.

Over the years, Eric has done many in-home, gourmet dinners for Lake Country clients. Last summer, we reported on a wine tasting dinner hosted by Tippy Creek Winery with Chef Eric offering a six course, summer menu. That caught the attention of several guests, and word spread about Chef Eric’s food and in-home preparation. This led to another engagement on Lake Wawasee last week, where he and sous chef Walter Woollacott prepared a six-course Italian dinner for a group.

How to Plan Your Event

This dinner for six was hosted by Diane and Steve McGarvey. Diane manages many properties in Lake Country, and the home chosen for this event on Lake Wawasee is one of those properties. With permission of owners, she invited Chef Eric to prepare an inspiring menu.

Diane’s company, Cottage Concierge, is focused on small event planning similar to this one. Family gatherings, weekend events, birthday parties, corporate events, reunions and weddings are all part of her services. She strives to be different with her event ideas and selects cuisine for such occasions based on event theme and clientele. For example, a party with lots of children present might be best served with a chef who’s a taco specialist.

For this event, the focus was on Italian cuisine.

A Classic Italian Menu

The table was beautifully set by one of the guests, and the menu was all things Italian, with most courses being classics. Like most traditional Italian dinners, this party started with an antipasto (starter). Eric’s take on this classic included all the basics: chunks of cured Italian meats, provolone, pepperoncinis, olives, chickpeas and mushrooms — all swimming in extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Eric served up a tasting, and I can attest that his version is as good as any I’ve had — including several variations from traditional Italian restaurants we frequented when living in Pittsburgh.

Next up, la minestra (soup). For this course, Eric prepared minestra maritata or Italian wedding soup — an Italian version of egg-drop soup with Italian meatballs. I prepared the meatballs, and Eric cooked them in a chicken stock base, added endive to wilt slightly, then finished with a garnish of shredded Parmesan.

Soup was followed by insalata. Eric chose another classic, a panzanella (bread) salad from Tuscany. The secret here is the croutons. Eric coats baked baguette pieces in EVOO and balsamic vinegar then serves them as a last-minute garnish on a salad of chopped cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, Kalamata olives, red onion, feta cheese, basil and capers — all nicely coated with an Italian vinaigrette.

Many sauces originating in Europe are named after the region where they were created and for the first entrée, Eric chose a Bolognese sauce (from Italy’s Bologna region) with angel hair pasta. The sauce is a rich tomato-base with ground beef and pork, vegetables, garlic, mushrooms and herbs. He served this with house-made Italian bread coated with herbed butter for sopping.

Most people would be overloaded by now, but Eric continued by serving a beautiful fish puttanesca. The sauce is a tomato-olive base loaded with anchovies that was invented in early Naples’ brothels (true story!). The fish was a beautiful slab of black cod — one my favorite fish varieties for baking. He served this with aromatic, herb-coated, roasted fingerling potatoes. What an outstanding dish!

The finale is what Eric called “dolce,” an ancient Sicilian word meaning “sweet,” and truly the raspberry tiramisu was sweet and delicious. Prepared by Eric’s wife, Jennifer (an award-winning baker), the raspberries scattered over the creamy filling with coffee and liqueur-laced lady fingers made this treat one to remember.

Diane’s conclusion on this event: “Very professional, and Eric delivered as promised!” Expect Chef Eric to continue preparing exquisite in-home meals throughout Lake Country. He will also cater a large fund-raising event for 500 or more in Fort Wayne next April.

Loren Shaum is an automation engineering consultant, retired pilot, author, home gardener and sometimes chef. He and Gayle reside in Syracuse. He can be contacted at comtec@kcaccess.com.

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