After an exhausting day at the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation, I was hoping to spend more time at the hotel than I ultimately did, which was barely enough time to get the Day 5 post up and get my tuxedo ready for the gala night.
While it’s far and away the most formal event of the week, for many the gala night plays second fiddle to Thursday’s white party. That being said, I’ve always enjoyed the gala night more. While the location isn’t as scenic as the monument, Procigar always puts up enough decor to make the final night feel like something special and there are a few signature features that I enjoy.
There’s the churro truck—which I tried to get Thomas Keller, the three-Michelin star chef of French Laundry and Per Se fame, to work—the deadmau5-inspired drummers that perform at the end of the night and the auction. And then there’s the dancing. The members of Procigar and those who help to put on the event usually spend a fair bit of time dancing—with the aid of glowsticks—early into Saturday morning, despite the sheer exhaustion after the week.
Like in many prior years, the auction benefited two local charities: Hospicio San Vincente de Paul and Voluntariado Jesus con los Niños.
While the final number was unable to surpass the 2016 auction, I felt like the auction lots overall inspired more competitive bidding than in year’s past. In the end, $135,000 was raised with yours truly contributing $400 for a cardboard cut out of Manuel “Manolo” Quesada Jr.
I ended up leaving the gala before the final song was played, a sign of either my personal maturation or the intensity of the week’s activities.
The gala serves as the final formal event of the Procigar festival, though there’s plenty of unofficial activities that take place after. This year, Davidoff invited media members to partake in a special brunch featuring renowned chefs in preparation for the release of the Davidoff Chef’s Edition 2018.
Included in that group are the aforementioned Keller, Alvin Leung of Bo Innovation in Hong Kong—which also holds three Michelin stars, and Shaun Rankin, the chef at the Ormer Mayfair in London. Klaus Effort, another three Michelin-star chef was also supposed to be in attendance but was unable to make it.
The quartet was part of the group that worked with Davidoff to pick the final blend for the Chef’s Edition. All are cigar smokers, more accurately cigar lovers. We headed to Davidoff’s fields in Jicomé where a brunch had been prepared—unfortunately by a Dominican catering staff and not the chefs—and a presentation prepared.
I shook hands with all three chefs the night before and briefly spoke to two of them, but there’s a certain level of intimidation when you see a helicopter sitting in a tobacco field. There’s also plenty of room for the chefs to be anything but friendly. Gordon Ramsay might act like an asshole on television, but some of the world’s most lauded chefs are also regarded as assholes.
But they weren’t.
All three were friendly and perhaps most surprisingly, approachable. Each went out of their way to introduce themselves and then make conversation with our small group and after a short introduction, Leung walked over to our table to see if there was an open seat.
I—along with four people I consider friends—spent the next hour or so having an intimate conversation with Leung, whose sense of humor might rival his cooking. He spoke about the economics of a world-class restaurant, his passion for cigars, his sporting interests and the dynamic of reality television. Pro-tip: put more salt on everything.
Leung—and I feel confident in saying the other chefs too—is a legitimate cigar lover. His knowledge of brands and limited edition products was better than our average reader, his understanding of flavor dynamics was obviously there and his advice about cigar pairing and answer to what’s your favorite cigar were quotable. His favorite cigar is whichever one is free and he suggests pairings should be judged like a marriage: as long as one doesn’t kill the other it’s good.
Afterwards, the chefs took the stage to discuss their experiences and how they came up with the new Chef’s Edition, which will debut in the latter half of the year, which was interesting
Davidoff had set up a table that featured the actual items that were listed as tasing notes, which included Szechuan pepper and leather, yes, actual leather.
Before long, our time with Davidoff was over. While we weren’t given any additional cigars, Davidoff gave us an apron which the chefs then signed.
We then boarded the bus to head back to Santiago, although not before stopping at a bar to grab 650ml bottles of Presidente for the road, which admittedly made the drive back go a lot quicker.
A few of us then headed to the annual Quesada day after poker game. Because of a dinner reservation, I opted not to play, but it looked like the players were having fun, although the banter was not at its normal level by the time I left.
I then headed to Saga, the restaurant owned by Augusto “Foofy” Reyes, which also shares a name with a cigar, which is produced by Reyes’ daughter Nirka, who runs the De Los Reyes factory. Saga is a high-end restaurant and bar that allows cigar smoking in an outdoor patio as well as a room inside. A total of 11 cigar media members opted to have one last meal with each other before we went our separate ways, something I was glad I attended.
Afterwards, I hung out a bit longer as Saga’s patio transformed into a nightclub before heading back to the hotel to pack and ultimately make my way back to Dallas.
Disclosure: Procigar paid for my registration, which included the events and lodging. Davidoff paid for my hotel room for the final night to attends its event.