by j.p. anderson | August 17, 2014 | People
As they prepare for the biennial Evergreen Invitational charity event and horse jumping contest, founder M.K. Pritzer and Graff Diamonds director Eve Rogers enjoy a lively meal at River North hot spot The Tortoise Club.
Working together on the Evergreen Invitational helped M.K. Pritzker and Eve Rogers become closer friends.
Chicago’s September society calendar is chockablock with charity events, but few are as anticipated as the Evergreen Invitational. Founded by philanthropist M.K. Pritzker, the biennial equestrian competition takes place in the lush setting of the Pritzkers’ Wisconsin farm and so far has raised more than $4 million for Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Along with her friend and invitational colleague Eve Rogers, Pritzker recently sat down over lunch at the Tortoise Club to discuss horse shows, women’s health, and how the restaurant has been a welcome addition to downtown Chicago.
How long have you known each other?
Eve Rogers: Our kids went to the same preschool—that’s my memory of first meeting M.K.
What was the connection?
M.K. Pritzker: First of all, we both love jewelry. And working on the Evergreen Invitational really brought us together.
ER: We have a lot of mutual friends, too.
How was the invitational born?
MKP: [It started] over 10 years ago. I have a horse farm that my husband [J.B.] bought for me on the 10th anniversary of our first date. I love horses, and I spent a lot of time building the farm into a kind of horse sanctuary. I was riding around one day thinking, “I need to share this—open up the farm and raise money for a good cause.”
Comfort and elegance unite at the Tortoise Club.
Eve, how did you get involved?
ER: We [at Graff] love supporting M.K. and her family, and of course we’re going to support Northwestern’s efforts and women’s health programs. So Graff has been a sponsor from the start.
Why choose Northwestern Memorial as the beneficiary?
MKP: When I had my first child in the hospital I was thinking, “I am so fortunate, and I have a lot of opportunity and people that look after me—what if I was somebody who [didn’t] have that, or a husband right there at my side?” That was when I first came up with focusing on women’s health. I met with the people at Northwestern [Memorial Hospital], and they’ve been a terrific partner in developing the event and funding programs for underserved women.
Have you both dined at Tortoise Club before?
MKP: When they were working on the concept, [owners Megan and Keene] Addington were introduced to me by a dear friend of mine who passed away, Nora Marra. When it opened I started coming here for lunch and dinner.
ER: I was brought to the restaurant by our friends the McNallys. Gray McNally is such a talented chef, and it’s been a joy to see the family’s success here.
Any favorite dishes?
ER: I love the crab cakes.
MKP: At dinner there’s a steak frites dish with blue cheese that I love.
How much planning goes into each Evergreen Invitational?
MKP: The first time it took a good two years of working every week on some element of it. Now that we’ve done it a few times, it’s a bit easier.
Eve, what does Graff have coming up in the fall?
ER: We have a couple of new pieces with carved colored stones, like a 100-carat carved emerald and diamond brooch as well as a carved ruby and diamond brooch. They’re exquisite—you’ll never see anything like them again.
[Quinoa and beet salad with goat cheese and pine nuts is served.]
The restaurant’s quinoa and beet salad.
MKP: The colors [of this salad] are so pretty—and I love vegetables.
What do you enjoy most about the invitational?
MKP: Getting to work with members of The Woman's Board at Northwestern Memorial—a fantastic group of women. And I love having people at the farm.
ER: To be able to watch the horses, which is not something I get to do all the time, is special to me.
[Tortoise club sandwiches with applewood-smoked bacon, egg, avocado, free-range chicken, and french fries are served.]
The classic turkey club with fresh avocado.
ER: These French fries look amazing.
It’s fall fashion season—how do you each describe your personal style?
MKP: I’m definitely high-low. I love wearing my Graff diamonds, and I also love Target.
ER: My style is simple, tailored, elegant, and sophisticated. I have to go from meetings to work to events all in the same day sometimes, so I try to wear things that will carry me through and won’t fight with the jewelry.
MKP: [Taking a bite] I’m a big club sandwich person. The chicken is really fresh and delicious.
ER: And the egg and avocado are excellent.
How did you first get interested in horses?
MKP: When I was a child my grandfather had a farm and would take in retired horses. I used to go sit on the fence post. Then I got braver and braver, and would sit on a horse’s back—that’s how I started. When J.B. ran for Congress [in 1998], I started to take lessons and got hooked again.
So what’s the verdict on lunch?
ER: Good! I usually come here for dinner, but as I’ve been watching people come in, [the atmosphere] is really great. It has such a cozy, intimate feel.
MKP: It really is a great place. The food is terrific. And I would like to point out that the décor is a tad horsey, so I feel very comfortable here. [Laughing]
The Evergreen Invitational is Saturday, September 6; evergreeninvitational.org. Tickets are $500 per person, by invitation only.
photography by galdones photography