Past Naples Baillis

From Inception in 1981



Edward Harold Davis

A marching band and a visiting international entourage of Chaîne confrères, including fortysix members from the North Rhine Westphalia Bailliage, launched the Bailliage de Naples on May 3, 1981, at the Mirabelle Restaurant in Naples, Florida. Fischer Brooks, host and Chargé de Missions of the German bailliage, brought Bertold Siber from Germany to prepare the inaugural dinner.

What precipitated interest in the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs at that time? According to Ruth Kinyon Whiteside Fisher, who served as Bailli from 1987 to 1990, “In the late 1970’s, there were those who took pleasure in commenting that Naples was a cultural wilderness, a remark which most often brought forth vehement retorts that people came to Naples to enjoy the pristine beauty of the natural environment as a restful change from a more hurried, urban existence.

“In 1980, there was an undercurrent of interest in fine dining. Stirrings for more experience with fine foods, their preparation and presentation, their study and direction, bubbled to the surface in the form of a group that became the founders of the Naples Bailliage of the Confrerie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs.

“The core of the group was Eli Strassner, a former Bailli of the St. Louis Bailliage. He was also a wine consultant and wrote a newspaper column about foods and wines for a St. Louis newspaper. To drum up interest in the community, he held a series of cooking classes in the demonstration kitchen at The Good Life. Culinary enthusiasts flocked to his cooking classes.”

On May 3, 1981, the first induction dinner, a black-tie, eight-course menu was held at The Mirabelle. The Bailliage, known then as the Bailliage of Naples-on-the-Gulf, was formed by Edward Davis, manager of Royal Poinciana Golf Club, who assumed the duties of Bailli, Wendy Harcourt Davis, Vice Chancelier-Argentier, and Eli Strassner, Bailli Honoraire. Twenty-five additional Neapolitans were duly inducted as members of the new chapter.



Ruth Kinyon Whiteside Fisher

Edward Davis left Naples in 1985 to manage a private club in New Jersey, leaving a serious leadership void. In 1986 Ruth Fisher, who had joined the chapter in 1982 and attended many of its early events, reached out to the Chaîne’s National Council for support to save the seed of a good organization. Backed by a strong team of professionals, Ruth Fisher became Bailli in 1986 at a gala revival dinner held at The Registry.

Eleven members renewed their membership in the revived chapter, and 10 inductees were immediately added. By November of 1988 there were 41 members, and by December of 1989, the membership had increased to 54.

Ruth was an imaginative, meticulous event planner, and each event she organized bore her unique stamp, expressing eloquently the results of an avid mind and an eye for the unusual and dramatic. “Fine dining is one of the experiences of a lifetime…akin to art and music…and a wonderful opportunity to create fantasy.”

Among the memorable events that took place during her administration were culinary learning experiences at the Cuisine Management kitchens, a tasting of seven varieties of caviar, special Christmas celebrations at The Registry, with one an English theme and the second a Swedish Christmas Festival with the Ambassador of Sweden and his wife as guests, an Oktoberfest, and two period dinners at the Ritz-Carlton, one spotlighting French cuisine at the time of Caesar Ritz and Escoffier and the other recreating the Chaîne’s founding dinner in Paris in 1950.

Articulate and resourceful, Ruth became an inspiration to baillis around the country as she traveled to regional meetings and national conventions. It was no wonder, then, that at the culmination of her reign as Bailli she was awarded the prestigious title of Pair de la Chaîne by the National Council.



Jeannette M Boucher

New officers, headed by Bailli Jeannette Boucher, were installed at a Catalan Dinner held at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in April of 1990. Jeannette brought with her strong administrative and organizational skills, honed from years of holding responsible positions with volunteer groups, as well as an innovative, positive outlook. She was also an accomplished cook and hostess who loved to learn and share her passions with fellow members.

Using her writing and computer skills, Jeannette designed and published the Naples Bailliage’s first newsletter. She also encouraged the development of the Chaîne’s new wine society, the Ordre Mondial, which, with 20 founding members, held its inaugural event in November of 1991. Shortly thereafter, the bailliage began raising funds to assist in the education of qualified local chefs, a program that received nation-wide attention and continues to the present day.

Theme dinners prevailed during Jeannette’s administration. The cuisine of Provence was celebrated as well as that of Northern Italy. The Ritz hosted an English Hunt Breakfast, and “You Be the Chef” parties and an exhibit entitled “Food as Art” served as fund raisers. Food demonstrations and tastings continued at Cuisine Management, and formal Christmas dinners focused on Vienna, Imperial Russia, and Colonial Williamsburg.

At the close of her 3-year term, membership stood at close to 100. Jeannette’s interest in identifying Naples members with special talents and giving them the opportunity to use these talents for the benefit of the bailliage resulted in a smooth transition to a new management team, headed by Willard Gortner.

Jeannette herself was tapped to serve on the Chaîne’s National Board as national Chargée de Presse, becoming the first woman ever elected to the National Board and editor of the Chaîne’s national magazine, Gastronome.



Willard A Gortner

At its annual business meeting in 1993, the Naples Bailliage elected Willard Gortner bailli. Will’s interest in food preparation began at the early age of twelve when he entered four cakes in a county fair competition, winning three first prizes and one second prize. A retired executive and philanthropist, his continuing interest in the culinary arts was manifested not only in his dinner planning abilities but at board meetings which were punctuated with his own creations.

Will’s well-honed organizational skills and a fine analytical mind, coupled with a genial disposition, sense of humor and ability to delegate responsibility, along with a committed board, resulted in a bailliage that not only continued to thrive but also to grow. The induction dinner held in March of 1993 found the bailliage with 18 additional Naples Chaine members and 19 more Mondial members, making the Naples Mondial chapter one of the largest in the nation.

Christmas dinners continued at The Registry Resort each December, with the varying themes of “Un Reveillon de Noel,” “Christmas in Manhattan,” and “A Traditional New England Christmas.” Gala induction dinners were held at The Ritz-Carlton each spring, and during the rest of the year there were theme dinners, some celebrating the culinary delights of a particular season and some reflecting a specific focus. Of special note was a caviar tasting held at The Ritz-Carlton in 1996.

The Harmon-Meek Gallery hosted fund raising events to benefit the bailliage’s scholarship program, one called “The Italian Palette and the Italian Palate” and the second “A French Valentine of Food and Wine.” At these special events, hors d’oeuvres were prepared by the bailliage’s professional members. In 1993, The Bay Colony Beach Club executed a dinner featuring Spring’s bounty from asparagus to wild boar, which it followed in 1994 with a dinner called “Fare: Game,” spotlighting abalone, quail, squab, partridge and antelope. The
next year it mounted an event called “At Monet’s Table.”

Successful Ordre Mondial events were held as well, including a Bordeaux tasting and supper, blind Merlot tasting, double-blind, comparative tasting matching two wines from each of five vintages, and a blind tasting of eight red Zinfandels.

The Naples Bailliage was in the national spotlight in 1995 when it hosted a combined national Board of Director’s meeting and Regional Assemblage at The Registry. Friday found the hotel’s ballroom transformed into a nightclub for an evening of Florida and Caribbean specialties with a Cuban emphasis. Daytime activities included a coffee tasting or cupping, boat tour and a visit to a member’s private art collection. “Un Grand Tour de France” was the
weekend’s culinary finale Saturday night.

At the conclusion of a term that produced outstanding events and wonderful conviviality, Will elected not to seek higher office, though both he and the bailliage’s accomplishments were well known at the regional, national and international levels. It was a time when “Travel Chaine” had become a popular motto, and Will exemplified this concept because of the friends he made for the Chaine and for the Naples bailliage during his travels in the USA and abroad. Those who attended the National Chapitre in Carmel will never forget the imaginative sardine costumes he and his wife Bettie concocted to wear to a Steinbeck costume party there. Their attire was a symbol of Will’s sense of fun and his eagerness to participate fully in all aspects of the Naples Chaine.



Dr. Melissa A Gridley

Melissa’s three years as Naples Bailli were marked by her own very special brand of energy, enthusiasm and imagination. The depth of her knowledge of both wine and food brought her accolades and respect from non-professionals and professionals alike, and the event themes she selected reflected her sophistication and desire to educate as well as provide pleasure. This was evidenced by the Chaine dinner she planned for her induction, a dinner held at the Ritz-Carlton saluting Auguste Escoffier.

In the fall of 1996, the Port Royal Club became the venue for “Un Pique-nique Provencal,” featuring not only a sumptuous buffet but also croquet and boules. Members were asked to dress in whites for this event, and costumes were de rigueur as well for another event, a sunset cruise celebrating Mardi Gras.

Melissa continued the tradition of mounting extraordinary Naples Chaine holiday dinners at The Registry. Over a three-year period, she tapped the expertise of members to orchestrate Christmas in Germany, A Chinese New Year’s Celebration and A French Fantasy. She then started a tradition of her own with highly successful luncheons held at Maxwell’s on the Bay, each with a unique theme.

Mondial events were inventive and numerous. Stand-outs were a single malt Scotch tasting held at the Ritz-Carlton, James Clendenen leading members through a tasting of his wines at The Registry, a coffee tasting and breakfast at La Playa, a champagne tasting held at The Registry, and a seminar by a man dubbed “the one-hour Bordeaux expert,” world renowned wine educator Kevin Zraly, whom Melissa brought from New York for the occasion.

Certainly one of the most unusual dinners in the bailliage’s history and a tribute to Melissa’s originality and careful planning was an event called “Flora and Fauna, Food and Fun,” held at The Conservancy. After exploring the backwaters of this nature preserve, members dined in its Natural History Museum. When the evening came to an end they were scarcely aware that their feast had been a vegetarian one.

Melissa’s tenure with Naples Chaine reflected an extraordinary devotion to the Chaine and its ideals. Her sunny disposition, easygoing manner and engaging smile belied the fact that she worked tirelessly and efficiently to attend to the myriad details that make events successful, and the fact that she did so while at the same time operating a thriving medical practice makes her stewardship all the more remarkable.



Jerry Thirion

Jerry Thirion, who took office in 1999, became the first Bailli of the Naples Bailliage to hold a professional rank since founding Bailli Ed Davis. Bailli Thirion brought with him sophisticated managerial experience and business acumen, having served as General Manager of the Don CeSar in St. Petersburg and The Colony Beach & Tennis Resort in Longboat Key, among others, before relocating to Naples in 1993, where he became Vice President and Managing Director of the Naples Registry Resort. Besides having a stellar career, Jerry was a seasoned Chaîne member, having joined in 1984.

He continued the Naples tradition of designing events around a theme with a Naples Chaine event he hosted early in his administration at LaPlaya Beach Resort, where he had just become managing director. This was a colorful Cuban Fiesta, complete with island music and a cigar roller. “Tastes of Tuscany” followed, held at Mediterra, a club that was to become a favorite site for future Chaîne dining experiences. “Call of the Wild” at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, proved a unique experience, and events at Bleu Provence and Chardonnay were firsts. L’Ordre Mondial events were scheduled for wine loving members, and the opportunity to cook with the “queen of Italian cooking” Marcella Harzan at a demonstration and tasting dinner, was provided.

During Jerry’s tenure, the Naples Bailliage began the popular “Chaîne Discoveries,” a summer program of dine-arounds exploring local restaurants. A Web site for the bailliage was started, and newsletters were initiated.

The year 2001 was an especially important one in the history of the bailliage. It began with an event of epic proportions, a special Naples Chaîne Holiday Celebration Dinner that commanded ten pages in the prominent Naples magazine, Naples Illustrated. The magazine had asked the bailliage for its “dream meal,” and Bailli Thirion devoted six months to the planning of it, personally researching and procuring the distinguished wines served. Each detail was carefully choreographed, with diners outnumbered by the staff that served them.

In 2001, the bailliage also celebrated its 20th anniversary at a glittering induction dinner held at Quail West Country Club. Homage was paid to its illustrious past at the same time it looked to the future by bringing in new members..

The year also marked the beginning of fund raisers to support a scholarship fund established jointly by the bailliages of Bonita and Naples. The first, which was held at Grey Oaks Country Club, was a star-studded gala featuring special guest chefs. An extraordinary meal ended with the eruption of flames from gas torches placed in the floral arrangements. A profit of $18,000 resulted. The following year a Venetian Carnevale theme gala at Mediterra raised twice this amount. Members began to see the results of their generous support as student recipients of scholarships were selected and sent off to study in preparation for careers in the culinary and hospitality industries.

At the end of his tenure, Jerry could look back on a significant list of accomplishments. As a highly respected member in the hospitality industry and a leader in the community, Jerry had been able to harness a great deal of talent for the betterment of the Bailliage de Naples. It was not surprising, then, that when he turned the mantle over to his successor, he was invited to accept the regional position of Chambellan Provincial.



Lacey King

Many of the skills Lacey brought with her when she was elected Bailli in 2002 had been honed during her 25-year diplomatic career, during which she dined with world leaders at the tables of Ambassadors around the world. This background in diverse cuisines and fine dining, as well as her charming, vibrant personality, were reflected in the six years of fabulous theme events an ever-growing number of members enjoyed during her tenure.

What made Lacey’s events stand out was her flair for creating and carrying out carefully selected themes. She designed most of the invitations, often making them by hand. Beautiful centerpieces were devised to complement each theme. While Lacey did not require members to dress in costume, the waitstaff usually did so, thus further setting the tone she was seeking.

Members who were present at the Twelfth Night dinner in January 2003 will remember the roasted pig on a gaily decorated platform carried by four servers in Shakespearean garb being paraded through the dining room. Later, a Chevalier was crowned “King of Twelfth Night” when he found a jewel in his cake. The Silk Road focused on cuisine from Italy to China at Olde Cypress Country Club, with scents of spices and bazaar curios as centerpieces as well as a waitstaff dressed in silk carrying silk umbrellas. A market scene and a hot air balloon were constructed as a photo prop for “Balloons over Barcelona,” and, to no one’s surprise, a hot air balloon centerpiece graced each table.

In 2006, our 25th anniversary celebration was a festive party with silver and blue decorations. No detail was ever spared – from the moment you entered, you were a guest of another era. She earned the endearing nickname, the Butterfly Bailli, and thus her last event in 2008 was named “Flight of the Butterfly” at the Botanical Garden of Naples, where members released live butterflies.

The year 2005 was an especially important one in the history of the Naples Bailliage, when the bailliage was asked to host the United States Grand Chapitre. Under the direction of Gastronomique National Roger Tracy, Lacey rose to the challenge, investing 18 months of detailed planning. Unfortunately, the catastrophic hurricane Wilma disrupted the actual event. The diehards who made their way to Naples as this Category 5 hurricane bore down on Naples still describe the one dinner that did take place as the most memorable dinner of a lifetime, thanks to the staff of the Ritz-Carlton, and a large team of Naples members Lacey had enlisted to help.

Lacey can look back over her six years as Bailli and feel deep satisfaction. During this time, the membership of the bailliage ballooned to third place nationally with 142 members. Under her tenure, Lacey established the bailliage’s first wine cellar, and the popular summer Dine- Arounds continued. Camaraderie and enthusiasm abounded as members looked forward to each event, knowing that their beloved Bailli had harnessed all of her passion and talents once again.

In 2008, as Lacey as Lacey passed the Bailli baton to her successor, Sandi Moran, she herself accepted the prestigious regional position of Chambellan Provincial.



Sandi Moran

As the 2005 Chaîne National Grand Chapitre was wrapping up with an elegant gala in Naples, current Bailli Lacey King and Vice Chargée de Presse Sandi Moran were standing in the magnificently decorated ballroom of The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, when Sandi made the statement that she would one day like to manage such magical events as the one we had just experienced. At that moment, Lacey King knew she had found a worthy successor and turned the reins over to Sandi when she was elected Bailli in 2008.

Over the next six years, under Sandi Moran’s capable leadership, the Naples Bailliage hosted events that rivaled the best in the nation. The Bailliage remained vibrant and continued to attract new members. As Bailli, she concentrated on a superior food and wine experience. She greatly expanded the number of Vintner dinners, where members could personally meet the winemaker, hear their story and taste their wines, sometimes in the intimate setting of her own home. Through her involvement with the annual Naples Winter Wine Festival, which has raised over $212 million in funds since 2001 to support underprivileged children in Southwest Florida, she made valuable connections with giants in the wine industry, who came to Naples year after year to volunteer their services to assist in the festival’s success. Throughout her years as Bailli, Sandi invited several of them to showcase their wines at our local Chaîne dinners, including Tim Mondavi, Peter Figge, Grace and Ken Evenstad, Veronique Drouhin, Robin Lail, Whitney and Cameron Fischer, Luc Morlet, Mike and Lucas Farmer, and Paul Hobbs. Sandi’s dinners were not only about food and wine. Members and guests could easily recognize and came to appreciate her creative side by the beautifully designed invitations, menus and programs found at each place setting. Her enchanting themes were carried out to the finest detail through captivating decorations and tablescapes.

Sandi appeared on the cover of Gastronome’s 2013 Volume 2,.featuring a magnificent Thanksgiving dinner hosted with her husband, Officier Tom Moran, in their beautiful home. Both Sandi and Tom are stalwarts in the Naples, Florida community. They have received accolades and recognition for their philanthropy, which focuses on music opportunities and education of children. When her tenure as Bailli ended, Sandi turned her attention to theatre on Broadway, and has been a producer of two award-winning musicals, namely Once on this Island (2018) and Hadestown (2019). She has the Tonys as proof.



Ed Kolesar

Our next Bailli, Ed Kolesar, was called upon to juggle the high demands of his position with Deloitte with his own desire to pass along to us the knowledge and experiences he had acquired through close association with notable vintners. He achieved this goal by mounting, together with the help of his supportive board, significant wine events in addition to regularly scheduled dinners. Ed also loved water views, and this particular preference tended to determine the venues that were selected.

Some of the highlights during Ed’s tenure included his first “Welcome Back” party, a sumptuous and convivial seafood feast held, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, at The Beach Club at Mediterra. Hosting another stellar event was Vice Chargé de Presse Thelma Negley, who welcomed members warmly to her distinctive restaurant, The Bay House, featuring spectacular waterfront dining and views of the Cocohatchee River. Another festive event took place at the innovative Hamilton Harbor Yacht Club, tucked away in a protective harbor beside the shores of Rookery Bay, where guests watched the sun set over Gordon Pass as they dined. A special kind of fun was then achieved with the scheduling of the event called Lunch and Croquet, which took place at the elegant Audubon Country Club. It should also be noted that Ed was especially supportive of fundraising events for CHEF, an affiliated local nonprofit that provides educational opportunities for aspiring chefs.

The first of several unique wine events took place at the prestigious La Playa Beach and Golf Resort. The Bailliage was privileged to have the highly respected and innovative winemaker Marchese Piero Antinori, at whose winery in California Ed was married, attend and address his audience as they sipped a diverse selection of his fine wines and dined overlooking the Gulf. A fabulous sunset was our gift to him and to ourselves. He and Ed had met in 2011 while on a Mediterranean wine cruise. “Superlative” described well an Opus One Vintner Dinner, hosted at longtime favorite The Club at Mediterra. An expertly curated vertical tasting of the acclaimed Opus One was savored, including some from impressive super-sized bottles, and attendees took home small orchids grown on Opus One soil as mementoes. The final event during Ed’s tenure celebrated the close connection the Naples Bailliage has enjoyed for many years with its esteemed members Grace and Ken Evenstad. Titled simply “The Domaine Serene and Château de la Crée Event,” it was also held at the The Club at Mediterra. The Evenstads had added to their prestige of having founded Domaine Serene by purchasing, in 2015, Château de la Crée, a Burgundy wine estate in the Côte d’Or. What a privilege and pleasure it was for us to join together in praise of their world-class wines in both Oregon in France, especially for Ed, who had made getting to know the Evenstads and visiting their properties a special priority.



Roger Weatherburn-Baker

Roger was born and educated in England where he began his professional career as a reporter with the London Financial Times before joining IBM UK’s Communications function. Assignments to IBM’s European headquarters in Paris, then international and World Headquarters in New York followed.

During his 30-year career in corporate communications in Europe and the United States he gained experience managing a particularly broad spectrum of communications programs, including managing newspaper and magazine production, film and television production, corporate advertising campaigns, and major recognition events in Europe and Asia.

In 2009, he brought this experience to the Bailliage de Naples. Soon after he joined the Naples board as Vice Chancellier Gastronomique. He assumed the duties of Vice Chargé de Presse and was awarded a Bronze Star. In 2012 he was elevated to regional duties as Vice Chargé de Presse Provincial Southeast and a year later took on national responsibilities, first informally as Chief Correspondent for Gastronome Publications then formally as Vice Chargé de Presse des Etats-Unis.

He became Bailli de Naples in 2016 and was awarded a Silver Medal by then Bailli Délégué Hal Small in 2017.

As Bailli, Roger immediately set out to enlist the professional expertise available in the ranks of such a large membership. He created a Wine Committee mostly comprising members with professional experience in the industry as growers, retailers or sommeliers. Similarly, he assembled a Dinner Committee comprising members with experience in the hospitality industry and created an Advisory Board drawing on the experience of senior-ranking veteran members.

This allowed him to host unique evenings for members that raised the bar on the chapter’s long history of creative events that help build and retain membership. He introduced a third dimension by adding themed entertainment to the food and wine concept. For example, about a hundred members dressed in safari gear were taken by motor coach to a Rumble in the Jungle event held under a huge marquee on the edge of the Everglades. The food and wines were South African, and authentic tribal dancers, stilt walkers, and flame swallowers entertained in a clearing surrounded by animal enclosures. At a Dinner with the Godfather event, the chef, food and wines were Corsican. A guitarist played themes from the Godfather movie while guests in gangster costume posed with a vintage mobster car.

In 2021, the Naples Bailliage celebrated 40 years since it’s formation with a black tie gala and a video review of the chapter’s first four decades written and produced by the bailli himself . The chapter also celebrated growing under Roger’s leadership to become the largest chapter in the country, a formidable achievement recognized by Roger being awarded the U.S. Chaine’s highest award, the Gold Medal of Excellence, by national board President Baron Bertrand de Boutray, and by a multi-page January 2021 feature in Gulfshore Life magazine, one of the most widely read publications in Florida.