You see, it featured some of the best, most extraordinary food I have ever encountered at a charity food fundraiser. And, dear Huffington readers, it is the 11th one I have been to this year... one more to go on October 14th, my own Special Olympics' "Pier de Sol' morning at the Santa Monica Pier, and then hopefully it's over for the year. But nothing will match some of the dishes which were served up this afternoon.
A noted chef from Seattle, Jonathan Sundstrom of Lark, served truffled beef cheek and sweetbread croquettes with a celery root salad. Yes, they were rather tasty. Bruce Kalman, whom I had enthusiastically reviewed when he was chef at The Misfit, told me he was revamping The Churchill's menu and we made a date to review it. David Lentz offered me some sea urchin from his display of iced Fruits of the Seas, although I rejected it with tequila. Guida De Laurentiis served grilled cheese sandwiches with bacon and chocolate, a strange mix of ingredients... but hey, she's a TV star. A chef I adore, Mary Sue Milliken of Border Grill, offered up her usual delicious tasting. This one was an Heirloom bean and bacon tostada. Two Philly guys, Jeff Michaaud and Marc Vetri, were offering unusual mordatella hot dogs with spicy pickles. I passed, knowing I was headed for Pink's. A noted Bay City chef, Matt Accarrino of SPQR, wouldn't let me get away with his truffled Canederi dumpling without its accompanying broth of smoked onion and porcini consommé, and he was right -- the soup was superb.
Multi-tattooed Ink's Michael Voltaggio and sparkling April Bloomfield of New York's Spotted Pig were side-by-side, offered up exciting tastes, and Providence's Michael Cimarusti told me his new Connie & Ted's on Santa Monica Blvd. just east of Crescent Heights will be finished shortly. Just down from my beloved Royal Gourmet Russian Deli, the home of the world's best gefilte fish. We are both judging a chili contest on October 14th at my food event. He served a succulent Ipswich clam sandwich on bacon brioche with spicy slaw. My favorite dish of the day? The Animal guys, Vinnie Dotolo and Jon Shook, offered up a large hunk of fried chicken so beautifully crusted that I had to ask how it was done...I am still faithful to the Monday night fried chicken at Bouchon Bistro, but these guys are really something. Their Son of a Gun on Third Street is a destination of dreams for seafood lovers.
I reserved my dessert samplings for Zoe Nathan's Huckleberry table, lots of little chocolate snacks, while I took a picture of her and her father...he remembered a lunch we had at Le Dome in the early 80s. (I didn't recall it, but I had a lot of lunches at Le Dome in those days.) I was curious to meet Chris Bianco of Phoenix, whose pizza place was rated number one in the country. Didn't appreciate the marinara pizza he served...wanted to taste his famous white clam one, not today.
My long-time buddy, Jonathan Waxman, of Manahattan's Barbuto offered a delicious skirt steak salad. But all was not hoi polloi food.... my old friends, Gloria, Richard and Beverly Pink, ever-charitable and delightful, had their usual Pink's Hot Dog stand set up, and were even kind enough to wrap a spicy Polish dog in silver foil for me to take home for dinner tonight. Dana Farner, the wonderful CUT sommelier, was offering a Napa Valley cabernet to all comers, but I told her that I was loyal to Laetita and Justin these days... and we discussed her adding them to her preferred list. The wine and spirits offerings were enormous, for those brave enough to drink so early in the day. I consumed three bottles of Fiji Water captured from those welcome blue containers scattered around the grounds, ice-cold and so, so welcome on a warm day.
So many old friends... some new ones... and a surfeit of food. My long-time buddy, the great food critic Merrill Shindler, whispered to me that he only wished they held this event in the cool of evening -- a wonderful thought but impractical because of logistics. The majestic Nancy Silverton supervised a corner booth alongside a roaring wood-burning pizza oven, and I joined the line for a slice of the Mozza pie. We discussed my recent Huffington Post article about Westwood's 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizza, and she was very cordial to them, saying it was a convenient and value-added place that she actually liked. Coming from the queen of pizza pies, high praise.
I watched the beautiful Deborah Siegel, assisting here as in many other such events, helping any and all to keep the crowds under control. Jannis Swerman, the able publicity maven, guided a host of press and newsreel people around the premises and did her usual splendid task for this great cause of children's cancer research. When I mentioned to her my astonishment at the food, she laughed and said, "That's why we called it a decadent chef's cookout." I don't know about decadent, but it sure was a great cookout. I ran into Phil Rosenthal, the indefatigable producer of the rerun champ, Everyone Loves Raymond, and he told me that he had just returned from a week in London with French Laundry Chef Thomas Keller filming a pilot for their new cable TV series. "We ate in 27 restaurants in one week, a stomach-busting record," he exclaimed. Good guy, and it will be a sensational show. Jimmy Kimmel then interrupted the food service to introduce the several sponsors of the event, companies who put up vast sums of money to participate. A woman I deeply admire, Sue Nagle of HBO, one of the sponsors, made a short speech... she is part of the progressive, adventurous team at that Emmy-winning cable behemoth. Reps from the other two Executive Chef Sponsors, Volvo and Northwestern Mutual, then spoke, and I was knocked out when the Volvo guy said he expected them to donate at least a million dollars to this cause in the near future. Wonder if I heard him right? A nice singer named Michelle Branch sang a song; I tuned out until she mentioned that her cousin Lily had leukemia and was just a month younger than the singer's daughter, and then I teared up and listened.
Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation emerged from the frontyard of cancer patient Alexandra "Alex" Scott (1996-2004). In 2000, four-year old Alex announced that she wanted to hold a lemonade stand to raise money to help find a cure for all children with cancer. Since Alex held that first stand, the Foundation bearing her name has evolved into a national fundraising movement, complete with thousands of supporters across the country carrying on her legacy of hope. To date, the Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation, a registered 501 © charity, has raised more than $55 million towards fulfilling Alex's dream, funding over 250 pediatric cancer research projects nationally. So I urge you to go to AlexsLemonade.org and send a donation to further this little girl's dream. I just did. I feel good.
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