Dining in the Museum

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Fall 2010,
Fall 2010
Original Images:



Author: John Kirkendall

On a summer evening in early July the Ypsilanti Historical Museum was the site of a gala dinner given to benefit Ypsilanti’s historic Freight House. The brainchild of Nat Edmunds, the dinner was auctioned to the highest bidder at an event held at the Ypsilanti Fire Hall. The high bidders, at $800 for a dinner for 8, were Pam Byrnes and Kent Brown. I was the chef for the occasion – and there were lots of talented and experienced people to help pull it together.

As guests entered the museum, they could not help but experience a sense of awe. The cellist, Dr. Robert Reed, known widely for his work with the Detroit Symphony and the Michigan Opera Theatre was playing in the living room next to the fireplace. In the dining room the formal table featured a bouquet of fresh cut, beguiling field flowers, befitting the museum. The flower arrangement was courtesy of Bonnie Penet, Co-Chair of the Friends of the Freight House (Nat Edmunds is the other co-chair.) The table itself was bountiful with sparkling crystal and gleaming Havilland – the china donated to the Museum by the estate of Judge Edward D. Deake – and polished to a fine gloss by Karen Nickels and Kathryn Howard in anticipation of the dinner. The kitchen was alive with aromas of the Beef Wellington and other culinary treasurers awaiting the guests.

Meanwhile, Nat had discovered an area new to her behind the second dining room that housed a double sink – perfect to keep dishes, glasses and silver washed as they were used. Many were recycled for several uses during the dinner. She will likely have dishpan hands for some time! Her principal assistant was Dick Robb who dried and buffed as the dishes were recycled.
Our team of servers was exemplary. The team was orchestrated by Dr. Susan Gregory, Director of the Hotel and Restaurant Management Program at Eastern Michigan University. Our credo was Service, Silence and Safety. There was no unnecessary conversation among our team during the dinner and service was ever present without being obsequious. Pam herself mentioned she had never experienced such service.

Andrea Linn handled the “staging” of the plates. They looked magnificent, each course overshadowing the previous. In the meantime, I was in the kitchen trying to get the courses out in order. (Andrea was also instrumental in the preparation of several other phases of the dinner.)
Wines were paired with the various courses by Jerry Hayes and he arranged to have the wines as well as the champagne donated to the Freight House dinner. Jerry does catering for people and organizations around our community and his largess and expertise was much appreciated.
The delicate museum crystal was used as it was originally intended - much to the delight of the assembled dinner guests.

The evening went like clockwork. Thanks to our team. The director of the Museum, Al Rudisill, was on hand to make sure no need that arose was unmet. The servers were Dick Robb (former EMU Regent and dentist,) Jim Baker (who, along with Bonnie, was our photographer,) Bob Taylor (retired firefighter, who appeared with the fire extinguisher with great effect as the flaming dessert was ignited,) and Tom Tobias (retired school teacher.)

The menu for the dinner included:

  • Appetizers: Amuse-Bouches and Champagne; Michigan Country Paté with buttered, toasted pain de mie rounds; Smoked Upper Peninsula Whitefish.
  • First Course: Vegetable Crepe Gateau; fresh tomato sauce; Blanc de Blanc Leelanau Michigan wine.
  • Second Course: Vichyssoise, a cup served with warm River Street French Bread with Basil Butter and Unsalted Butter.
  • Between Courses: Minted Pineapple Lime Sorbet with Moravian Ginger Cookie served in Sesquicentennial shot glass (yours to keep).
  • Entrée: Tenderloin of Chelsea Beef Wellington; Crisped Potato Baskets with Buttered Snow Peas; Upright Romaine with Maytag Bleu Cheese dipping sauce; Selection of Michigan Reds by Mawby Winery.
  • Dessert: Genoise ice cream roll with Traverse City Cherries Jubilee.

The museum itself provided an elegant backdrop for a wonderful evening. The evening began with a professional tour led by Nancy Wheeler, a thoroughly knowledgeable docent dressed in period clothing. By the time the evening concluded, our out-of-town guests were totally impressed by, and enthusiastic about, an important historical resource available in and for our community and, in fact, a resource used by many others from distant locations.

I have a feeling we will be seeing these guests again.

(John Kirkendall, retired judge and an active chef, prepared the feast that benefitted the Ypsilanti Freight House renovation.)

Photo Captions:

Photo 1: Pam Byrnes and Kent Brown with their guests enjoying one of the many courses of food served at the dinner in the dining room of the YHS Museum.

Photo 2: Servers joining Chef Kirkendall were: (left to right) Tom Tobias, retired teacher; Dick Robb, retired dentist and former EMU regent; Kirkendall; Jim Baker, retired box designer; and Bob Taylor, former firefighter.

Photo 3: Dinner guests were entertained throughout the evening by cellist Dr. Robert Reed, widely known for his work with the Detroit Symphony and the Michigan Opera Theatre.

Photo 4: Al Rudisill, (right) YHS President, greeted the guests at the front door of the Museum and Nancy Wheeler, (left) provided a tour of the Museum and Archives.

Photo 5: Pam Byrnes was the high bidder at $800 for the “Dinner for eight in the YHS Museum Dining Room.”