Kathie Lee Gifford was the special guest Friday at a Max’s Lunch Club event in West Hartford which featured her GIFFT wines paired with a menu by Max’s Oyster Bar Executive Chef Hunter Morton.
By Ronni Newton
Kathie Lee Gifford was every bit her friendly and down-to-earth TODAY Show TV persona as she glided through the room at Max’s Oyster Bar in West Hartford Center, sipping a glass of wine and taking the time to greet and chat with every single guest who attended the Max’s Lunch Club event on Friday.
She quickly befriended and bonded with Max’s Oyster Bar Managing Partner/Owner Bob Cooke, nicknaming him “dimples.”
Kathie Lee [it’s hard to call her “Gifford,” since the name “Kathie Lee” has become iconic] said she’s in her fourth year in the wine business, and she tries to plan and schedule as many events as she can, and has learned from experience that wine lunches work best. “People get to have a lovely lunch, really try the wines, and I go to each person and have some time with them. It’s just friendly,” she said.
She said she gave Max’s Oyster Bar Executive Chef Hunter Morton free rein to decide on the lunch menu. “We just gave the wines and said you know your menu and you know what you do and it’s going to be delicious.”
There are currently four varieties of GIFFT Wine, which are produced by Scheid Family Wines of Monterey, CA. A Chardonnay with strong tropical fruit flavors and a red blend were the first offerings, and Kathie Lee has since added a Pinot Grigio and Rosé. All have been well-received, garnering high ratings from Wine Enthusiast. A white blend, called “Bountiful,” which is slightly sweeter, will soon be released.
Max Restaurant Group Beverage Director Brian Mitchell said he was familiar with Scheid Family Wines and worked with the company’s local representative to arrange the lunch club event featured GIFFT Wines. Max Restaurant Group holds lunch club events every few weeks, Mitchell said, and he thought the wine selection would be perfect.
“Hunter [Morton] did the pairings,” Mitchell said. The California-based wines and Morton’s style were a good overlap, Mitchell said.
“We wanted to introduce some springy flavors, something a little fun,” Morton said. He said the lamb, peas, and mint that highlighted the fourth course were just right, and a dish that could be prepared for the 143 guests all at the same time.
“I was pleasantly surprised. The wines exceeded my expectations,” Morton said.
Friday’s lunch club was a huge success, Cooke said.”We knew it would sell out and it sold out in less than an hour,” he said.
Lunch guests Ellin Smith of Windsor and Terry Pelletier of Glastonbury were overflowing with excitement about attending the lunch, even before Kathie Lee came over to greet them and pose for photos.
“We have been watching Kathie Lee since we had little babies in our arms. She has been a source of joy for us,” Smith said. They loved her when she was part of the Regis and Kathie Lee Show, and they said they loved her on TODAY earlier on Friday, when she was paired up with guest host Craig Ferguson while co-host Hoda Kotb is on maternity leave.
Both Smith and Pelletier said they are frequent diners at Max’s Oyster Bar, even without the draw of Kathie Lee.
“I am not an expert in wine; I’m only an expert in what kind of wine I love, and so when I signed with Scheid I said to them that I can’t sell something that I don’t personally love,” Kathie Lee said. She has partnered not only with Scheid, but with Christine Gardner, who has worked with her for more than two decades.
“It’s so affordable. Our wines retail for about $15 and that’s unheard of for this quality,” Kathie Lee said. “We’re dedicated to making the best wine we can possibly make for the most affordable price.” It’s not a celebrity wine but a serious partnership that she plans to continue for the rest of her life.The wines are tested at her house before being released, Kathie Lee said.
Max’s Oyster Bar Manager Michael Shail said that the restaurant will be serving the GIFFT Chardonnay on a regular basis. “It blends well with our food,” he said.
Kathie Lee, who is a resident of Greenwich, said although she has passed through town, this was her first official visit to West Hartford. Cooke hopes she will return for another lunch club event very soon.
GIFFT Wines are currently available at Gillette Ridge Wine & Spirits, 860 Cottage Grove Rd. in Bloomfield., and can be ordered by emailing [email protected].
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