Noreen Bakes the Prize
Sierra Lodestar Column 04/22/09

Noreen Bakes the Prize

By Antoinette May Herndon

There was a rush of excitement, a buzz of eager conversation, as guests crowded into Mokelumne Hill’s Hotel Leger Sunday night. Clearly it was not just any dinner, this was an Event.

Speculation swirled around one person: the fabulous Noreen Huberty. Arguably the pizzazziest lady in three counties, Noreen had volunteered her services for the hotel’s much anticipated Chef Night. Rumour had it that she would cook a favourite dish: clam linguini. Noreen loves pasta and does it so well, the choice a winner.

But the big question was: would there be rum cake? The jewel in Noreen’s culinary crown is her renowned dessert. Only a few nights before at the town’s benefit crabfest, many of us watched spellbound as one of Noreen’s prize rum cakes was auctioned. On and on the bidding went, rising higher and higher as the crowd’s excitement mounted. At last, after much spirited contesting, Steve Wilenski captured the much coveted cake for $150. Yes, you read it right. $150 All I can say is there’s a madness that comes over people when a true treasure

comes up for grabs.

Noreen is modest about her attributes. She’s a local girl who enjoyed the city life in San Francisco for ten years. “I always liked to cook,” Noreen says, “but North Beach friends taught me to love and cook pasta.

Back in Calaveras County, Noreen worked in the city planning department where she met and married the attorney George Huberty, a pioneer Mother Lodian. The couple purchased a Mokelumne Hill cottage dating from the 1890’s, where Noreen, now a widow, lives with her Bengal cat, Nia.

An inveterate traveler, Noreen enjoys sampling exotic food wherever she goes. “I’m an adventurer who loves to eat as opposed to eating to live,” she explains. “When the food’s good, I try to make it even better.”

The popular Chef Night series is the lovechild of man-about-Mok Ed Cline and the incandescent Brenda Nasser. Brenda launched the series in January with a sumptuous Shepherd’s Pie. Robin Aldrich followed with a treasured chilli recipe. Next, that dynamic duo, Irene Perbal and daughter, Magali McGreevy, cooked up a storm—an authentic rainy night in Rio--preparing a Brazilian dinner that elevated food to

art form.

Hard acts to follow, but Noreen is . . . well, Noreen. As soon her announcement went up, 40 names appeared on the sign-up list. The day before Chef’s Night there were 51. Sunday morning, seven more frantic people called. “We didn’t know it was Noreen cooking, can’t you squeeze us in?”

With 58 to feed, Jane Canty, the Leger’s co-owner, spent all day Sunday frantically searching every outlet for clams, clams and more clams. It took a bit of stretching, but Noreen’s linguini was tender, succulent, with enough garlic to fend off an army of vampires.

Of course, it’s the rum cake that still has everyone talking. Noreen baked six of them to satisfy the hungry crowd. And, just in case you’re wondering, she refuses to share her secret. Would any great chef?

VITALS: The Hotel Leger’s next Chef Night, featuring the incomparable Fawn and Lori (McLaughlin and Hale) will be May 3. 8304 Main St., Mokelumne Hill. Phone: 286-1401.


1) Another success story for Noreen Huberty 2) Noreen Huberty in the Leger kitchen prepares her famous linguini.