Broadway Tribute Really Gets Cooking

With help from Bernice the boa constrictor and second helpings of imagination, Orange County was cooking Saturday night: “A Tribute to Broadway,” which took place at the Irvine Hilton and Towers, marked the county’s first March of Dimes Gourmet Gala, a fund-raising idea that’s already caught on in 40 other cities across the country.

The way it worked: Sponsors, a baker’s dozen, each donated $5,000 to the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation for the privilege of hosting a food station. They invited local chefs and celebrity guest assistants to prepare dishes at the Broadway-musical themed booths which were designed by local interior designers. Many of the dishes were available for sampling; all were submitted for evaluation by a panel of discerning palates for five special culinary awards.

Texas-born gala co-chairman Kathryn Thompson chose “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” for her theme--she thought it “would be the most fun for a fun girl.” Her booth starred county Supervisor Thomas F. Riley as sheriff, while she and Emma Jane Riley came as madams.

Former March of Dimes trustee Jane Wyatt (“Father Knows Best”) left the “Carousel” booth where she was the celebrity guest star just long enough to visit fellow celebrity Macdonald Carey (“All the Days of our Lives”) at the “Best Little . . . . " She found Pacific Club chef Reiner Langbein serving up sauteed sea scallops with saffron sauce and garlic mayonnaise--it won in the entree category--and cancan dancers, borrowed from Disneyland’s Golden Horseshoe, whooping up a storm.

Sonny Bono was to be the star of the “Evita” booth, but he was a no-show. “We got the bird instead,” said Alan Greeley, chef at the Golden Truffle. Greeley was referring to the live toucan in the food station, which resembled a run-down Argentine bar complete with Friday’s copy of La Nacion . Bernice the Boa also showed up to add to the South American decor. Greeley’s Escabeche de Gallina-- “like chicken ceviche, only cooked"--received the Culinary Institute of America’s Regional Cuisine Award.

Copa de Oro chef David Wilhelm’s Santa Fe Torte, which he described as “layers of fresh corn crepes, roasted duck and Pasilla peppers in a New Mexico red chile sauce,” was deemed “most unusual and creative recipe.” He cooked on behalf of William Lusk and Guy Claire in the “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” kitchen.

The judges’ panel, headed by Charlene and Hans Prager of the Ritz in Newport Beach, included Romanoff Caviar Co. President John Roberts; New York Times food columnist Pierre Franey; International Cork and Fork director John Cronin; Chao’s Dinesty publisher Fifi Chao and Cornelius O’Donnell of Corning Glass Works.

Better Food Here

Franey, who also judged the recent Gourmet Gala in Los Angeles, said the food was better here: “It had to be,” Franey said. “There, the stars did the cooking.”

Award for first course went to Bruno Cirino of Antoine for his charlotte of asparagus and lobster with caviar cream (in Jim and Barbara Sweeney’s “The Wiz” kitchen). Claude Koeberke of the not-yet-open 32nd Street Bistro won for dessert with his chocolate surprise cake and truffle cream (at “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” a collaborative sponsorship by Beverly Thompson-Coil “and Friends”).

Heidi Bohay (“Hotel”) helped Trees chef Russell Armstrong prepare a Salzburger Nockerl souffle in Erik Arden’s “Sound of Music” kitchen. Arden, an ex-actor who turned to real estate and “did real well,” is about to produce a movie “kind of like Gidget and Frankie in the ‘80s” on location on Lido Isle.

Tom and Elizabeth Tierney presented “Amadeus.” In the title role, playing the harpsichord with his curly hair in a pony-tail, was Micah Levy, conductor of the Orange County Chamber Orchestra. James Roosevelt was celebrity guest at the “Amadeus” station.

Suggested Name Change

According to master of ceremonies Vick Knight Jr., it was his father’s suggestion to James’ father, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, that resulted in a name change from Warm Springs Foundation for Infantile Paralysis to the current March of Dimes. After the judges had reached their decisions, Irvine Hilton executive chef Michael Watren served a dinner of duck consomme, mahi-mahi braised with periwinkle snails, veal with roasted garlic and shallots, black-currant sorbet in a white chocolate shell with champagne sabayon. Macdonald Carey joked that of the 620 dinners, probably 400 were served to “celebrity guests.”

Dancing to music by Barry Cole’s Sounds of Music Orchestra were astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who said he went to traffic school the day before the gala, TV actresses Lauri Hendler, Marla Pennington, Nancy Honig and Anne-Marie Johnson, state Sens. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) and John Seymour (R-Anaheim), Brig. Gen. William Bloomer, cookbook author Pilar Wayne and actor Hal Morse.

Each guest went home with a cooking apron and a jar of whitefish caviar.

“At the Houston event, the chairman volunteered to pay out of her own pocket for one ounce of beluga caviar for the guests,” recalled Roberts. (Beluga is the most expensive caviar.) “I think there were 1,200 guests. She wanted a special ball--it was their fifth.

“But there’s a problem with a charity being too opulent. You’ve got to make it interesting, but you can’t make it so enjoyable that you begin to think, ‘Wait a minute, shouldn’t we save a little money for the charity?’ There’s a fine balance between being glamorous enough to cause a repeat sale, but not so opulent that people are turned off.”

Completing the roster of sponsors: Thompson’s co-chair, developer/airline executive William Lyon; her escort, Gus Owen; Henry and Renee Segerstrom; Sandy Gilchrist and Allen Gilchrist; Jim and Beverly Peters, Jim Beard and Bob Hoshaw.

According to Fred Kern, retired chairman of the county March of Dimes chapter, monies raised--the dimes marched in to the tune of $60,000--would help fund five ongoing genetics and birth defect research programs at UC Irvine. Kern named Thompson the chapter’s Champion of the Year; he was joined at the podium by national gala coordinator Elaine Whitelaw.