{This was a hosted event.}
Tucked away in a quiet business park in Lake Forest, on Bake Parkway, is a fabulously elegant setting for all kinds of events and social happenings! From corporate meetings, to team-building, private parties, showers and testing of secret recipes— this is a special spot indeed. The Wine Artist is also the perfect address for personalized cooking classes, private wine seminars & pairings, custom wine labeling events, iconic birthday celebrations, club & charity events and everything in-between. The Owner, MJ Hong, is even starting a Wine Blending Class in early 2019!

The Setting…
The space is elegant with an authentic Tuscan flair. The décor features rich marble countertops and tile floors, tapestries, wrought iron accents and dark wood cabinetry. There is a large reception area as one enters the venue, which is perfect for checking in, or welcoming guests upon their arrival. Just beyond that is the perfect entertaining area with high top tables, chairs and a long counter & bar area that is just perfect for buffets, appetizers and pouring wine of course! This is just ideal for: giving a presentation, presenting a wine & food pairing, dining and bartending, doing a demonstration, serving a robust buffet, and so forth. At the far end are two huge tables that are quite flexible for all kinds of events—with built in countertops surrounding the space. From cooking classes to wine and cheese pairings, custom labeling for wine bottles, or assembly of all types of various projects—they can all be accommodated right here! And behind the scene is a commercial kitchen for preparations, refrigeration, cooking and it makes for such an easy clean up. (My favorite is the abundant parking. It is such a luxury to pull right in to a huge parking lot for ease upon arrival.)

Transporting Us To New Orleans…

As our group of food, wine and travel writers gathered for a fun day together…. little did they know that the menu was all about New Orleans— and I was heading there in just two weeks! MJ and I winked at each other when I saw the menu. Score one for me! IFWTWA is the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association. We are a band of writers with a love of food, wine and travel. MJ was kind enough to host our fall SoCal Regional Meeting.

With menus distributed, we chatted over wine and an impressive charcuterie platter. It was fun to catch up. But as we donned our aprons and took our stations we turned to serious business. Cooking! On the menu we would be preparing four items: Jambalaya, Shrimp Etouffee, Beignets and Bananas Foster. All classics if you are in New Orleans and what fun to make! I always get a little cooking history along the way from MJ, which I very much enjoy. I like to learn about what I am cooking and get ideas on spices and tricks I need to add to my arsenal.

The “Cajun Holy Trinity” consists of onions, bell peppers and celery. This is the base for much of the cooking in the regional cuisines of Louisiana. This preparation is used in Cajun/Creole dishes such as: crawfish étouffée, gumbo and jambalaya. They all begin with this starter. (This is quite similar to the French mirepoix—a base made from: onions, celery and carrots. They are cooked, usually with butter or oil, for a long time on a low heat without color or browning.)

The New Orleans culinary scene is elevated from three very distinct historical influences. With the help from Wikipedia, here is a brief explanation of all three:

1) The Creoles are descendants of the settlers in colonial Louisiana, especially New Orleans. Before Louisiana became a part of the United States in 1803, it was colonized for more than a century, first by France and then by Spain. The Creoles were the American-born offspring of these European settlers. Some Creoles are people of mixed race who also have West African and Native American ancestry. Creole cuisine is a fusion, unique to the New Orleans area, of French, Spanish, West African, and Native American cuisine. It was also influenced by later immigrants from Germany, Italy, and other locations.

2) Cajun cuisine is also based partly on French cuisine and also makes use of local ingredients such as onions, bell peppers, and celery. It tends to be hearty, rustic fare, complex in flavor but easier to prepare. Compared to Creole cuisine it uses less fish and more shellfish, pork, and game.

3) Soul food was created by the African-American descendants of slaves. It is closely related to the cuisine of the Southern United States, but its origins trace back to West Africa. It often features hearty, flavorful dishes made with economical ingredients. Soul food is very popular all over New Orleans.

Our Cooking Adventure Begins…

We grab our aprons, saunter to our stations and with arms raised hail, “Let the cooking being”! Always on her game, MJ directs us to begin with the dough for the beignets as that takes the longest time to make. So we make the dough and roll that out. What fun. Another group started the roux for the Shimp Etouffee, while a third group started the Trinity base for the Jumbalaya. The Bananas Foster is a quick process so we were to complete that closer to the end. (I made a note that while in New Orleans I would need to track down the local spice called “Slap Yo’ Mama” which I of course did bring home.)

Creating Our Roux:








Beignets are so fun to make!!!

And the Jambalaya and Shrimp Etourffee quickly take shape!



With thanks to the Wine Artist for sharing this recipe with my readers…

Shrimp Etouffee Recipe (Serves 6 Guests)


-1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

-1/2 cup flour

-1 onion-diced

-1 bell pepper-diced

-2 stalks celery-diced

-4 garlic cloves- minced

-1 teaspoon salt

-1 tablespoon Creole/Cajun seasoning (salt, black pepper, paprika, garlic power , thyme and oregano)

-2 cups broth (seafood, vegetable, etc.)

-1(14 oz) can diced tomatoes

-1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

-1/2 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined (can use shells for stock, if desired)

-1/4 cup parsley-minced

-1 green onion- sliced

-1 Tablespoon butter

-Cooked rice


-Making the roux: Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add flour and stir constantly until roux turns golden brown. (peanut butter color) but be careful to watch it as it can easily burn.)

-Add onions, pepper and celery (Trinity), garlic, salt and creole seasoning and continue until vegetables are soft about 5 minutes.

-Stir in broth, tomatoes, Worcestershire and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook, stirring to prevent sticking for about 15-20 minutes. Add the shrimp, parsley and green onions and continue to cook 5 minutes or until shrimp is cooked. Turn off heat and add butter and stir.

-Serve over rice and garnish with green onions.

For the Beignets Recipe, please visit fellow IFTWTA writer’s article with that recipe which is very fun and easy to make.

A Great Host…  

It is not easy to facilitate a group of adults through multiple menus and have everything turn out amazing, delicious and all the guests with smiles on their faces. This is mostly due to the incredible leadership talents of Owner MJ Hong. Over the years I have really tried to unpack what it is that makes this all work so incredibly well. I have come up with five things that really sets MJ apart from others who try:

1) Passion. She really loves what she does and it is illustrated by her broad, beautiful smile. She wants your experience to exceed all expectations and it shows!

2) Organization. She is the most organized person I know. All the ingredients are there, menus are printed and she thinks of everything ahead of time. Trust me— she has it all dialed in.

3) Knows how to heard cats. She knows how to lead the teams, stay focused and keep us all on track without making anyone feel as though they are not meeting the standard. If something starts to go sideways, she spots it quickly, steps in and with just a wave of the hand gets us back on track. That is an art form to behold. Pay attention to that!

4) Creativity. She is five steps ahead of the rest of us—not only in her classes, but also in her thinking “outside of the box”. She is always creating new events and programs. Her venue gives her great flexibility. For example, she just announced that she will be doing a brand new Wine Blending Classes in early 2019. I cannot wait for that and will sign up as soon as she offers some dates!

5) A great sense of Humor. She loves to laugh and that makes for such a wonderful experience. She is friendly, warm and somehow finds the joy in all things. Who doesn’t want to be around that, right? Thank you MJ for always finding the joy.

Upcoming Cooking Classes in January, 2018
MJ does cooking classes on Thai, Sushi, Sauces, and so many others throughout the year. Since January seems to be about healthy cooking, MJ has developed a series, or they can be taken individually (if the series is not already sold out). This includes: Healthy Paleo 1/7, Healthy Keto 1/14, Healthy Vegan 1/28 and Healthy Vegetarian 1/21. A Taste of Thailand will be held on 1/22. She also offers Gift Certificates and that is a super gift for the cook on your list.

Details About The Wine Artist…
As I have mentioned, this elegant event space is owned by MJ Hong. She is wearing many hats since her career as a Human Resources Executive. Now she is the proud Owner, Chef, Wine Steward, and the most hospitable Hostess that anyone could hope to welcome them. The space is amazing, and she is so flexible! She will work with clients in any way they may need—- to create just the type of special event they envision. They have complete audio visual capabilities and big screen television sets, and can accommodate up to 100 people!

Here is just a sampling of the many day or evening and even weekend events she can arrange, so get your thinking cap on and book one right away! Events such as: corporate team building, unveiling a new product, off-site meetings & brainstorming, testing recipes, cooking classes, wine education programs, wine bottling and labeling, educational programs for children and clubs, charity events and fundraisers, baby showers, girlfriend outings, couples wine dinners, milestone birthday bashes, and the list goes on and on.

A huge thank you to MJ for facilitating such a lovely event and I hope to return very soon with another fun adventure to be enjoyed at The Wine Artist. And if you visit her web site, under Blogs, she has a treasure-trove of wonderful recipes as well!


The Wine Artist
An Event Venue & Winery
21064 Bake Parkway #100
Lake Forest, CA 92630
(949) 297-3656

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