A waiter in the anteroom of the Champagne Ballroom at the Sheraton Harbor Island Hotel presented his silver tray to a guest Saturday and murmured, "Try the liver sausage, ma'am, it's good."
The woman, one of San Diego's leading foodies, picked up a breaded morsel, gave it a contemplative once-over, and popped it in her mouth. A look of startled pleasure quickly spread across her features, and reaching for another tidbit, she said, "Oh, well, I suppose that one man's foie gras is another's liver sausage."
Seventy-five pounds of foie gras , the special goose liver that with black truffles and Beluga caviar ranks among the costliest and most luxurious of foods, was brought to the Sheraton kitchens for Saturday's Fete X Five, a gourmet gala that inaugurated the 50th anniversary year of the March of Dimes.
The remarkable dinner prepared by five of the country's most respected chefs (hence the name "feast times five") had a marked effect upon the 500 guests, many of whom appeared to be singing over their suppers between bites of tuna carpaccio in Chinese black vinegar and terrine of pheasant layered with foie gras and truffles.
The five chefs, including Bradley Ogden of San Francisco's noted Campton Place and Gerard Pangaud of New York's ultra-chic Aurora, also prepared the hors d'oeuvres passed during the cocktail reception.
The event expanded upon the original Fete X Five given last year by transforming a series of dinners into a single, extravagant, full-blown gala. The party netted some $150,000, or triple its predecessor's take, a fact that made event chairman Luba Johnston look every bit as pleased as the woman who discovered that the purported liver sausage was actually foie gras . Johnston also was more than a tad delighted by the sold-out attendance (" Every body is here tonight!" she said), as she was when her ticket proved to be the winner in the raffle for a deluxe trip to Paris.
Guests were welcomed to the cocktail reception by Fanfares d'Elegance, the trumpeters who opened the 1984 Olympic Games. This was the touch of co-chairman Dixie Unruh, who had previously hired the group to perform at her daughter's wedding.
"I sense a lot of happiness in this room," said Unruh, a reasonable enough statement given the fact that the guests looked more than happy to be nibbling crab-stuffed sweet pepper pancakes whipped up by Kathy Casey of New York's Maxwell's Plum and snapper Hemingway prepared under the direction of Tony Vallone of Houston's popular Tony's.
Later, an auction featured dinners donated by, among others, vintner Martha Culbertson and restaurateur George Munger.
At the reception, only one man entitled to wear a toque appeared before the public view, and he wore black tie. This was Pierre Franey, the highly respected former chef and current New York Times food writer who recruited the five working chefs. With philanthropist Cecil Green, noted medical researcher Jonas Salk and others, Franey was billed as one of the gala's specially honored guests.
Blending of Chefs
The guest chefs labored out of sight in the hotel's cavernous kitchens, where Sheraton executive chef Bob Brody oversaw coordination of their efforts. Interviewed in the midst of the steamy, pungent scene, Brody said that the collision of five egos he had viewed as a distinct possibility had failed to materialize.
"It's amazing how all these personalities have done a great job of working together," said Brody "It's amazing to me--there have been no characters. They get along!"
The guests, meanwhile, got along at the double when the doors were thrown open to the ballroom. The room included a giant "50" composed of balloons floating above the Bill Green Orchestra, a sea of tulips mounted in high-rising epergnes floating above the tables, and places set with sufficient silver for a full, five-course meal.
The guests danced between courses, maintaining plenty of appetite for a meal that included ravioli in vodka sauce, a salad of exotic greens, and fancy apple bread pudding, this last prepared by Nancy Silverton, former pastry chef at Hollywood's trendy Spago's.
Local March of Dimes chapter President Bent Petersen took the podium for a moment to tell the crowd that San Diego has a very special place in the history of the March of Dimes, since it is home to the Salk Institute, built by funds raised by the organization after it was launched in 1938 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Originally devoted to finding a cure for polio, the March of Dimes now devotes itself to the prevention of birth defects.
The visiting chefs finally had their turn to bow after the last crumb of the meal had been consumed. Introduced with fanfares, they were presented with gemstone eggs donated by Jeanne and Bill Larson. The group then huddled over dessert at a corner table and discussed food, naturally.
The guest list included Jean and Ernest Hahn, Audrey Geisel, Joanne and Frank Warren, Sally and John Thornton and Karon and Gordon Luce, all of whom served as honorary chairmen. Also present were Betty and John Mabee, Renee and Charles Taubman, Janice and Maurice Taubman, Dottie and Pat Haggerty, Connie and John Desha, Darlene and Don Shiley, Kathy and George Pardee, Emmy and Bud Cote, Jacque Powell, Kate Adams with Marvin Moss, Doralece Lipoli, Evelyn Truitt and Craig Noel, Denise and Bertrand Hug, Harriett and Richard Levi, Lucille and John Lindsey, Pam and Don Allison, and Alma and Bill Spicer, down from their Eagle Point, Ore., ranch. Their prize bull, Charge-On, is a contender for the triple crown of national stock shows, which makes the Spicers, as Alma said, bullish on 1988.
Moving more like a matador than a master of the boards, Rudolph Nureyev, the bad boy of ballet, caused a minor commotion when he marched into the U.S. Grant Grand Ballroom on Friday at the side of San Diego Foundation for the Performing Arts director Diane Annala.
The legendary dancer--whose reputation for tantrums some insiders say is undeserved--appeared at what rather succinctly was called the Nureyev Gala in fulfillment of his contract. A clause, tacked onto the agreement that brought him and a troupe of Paris Opera Ballet dancers to the Civic Theatre for a pair of sold-out performances Friday and Saturday, specified that the star attend the post-performance segment of the gala. (The fund-raiser was expected to raise a significant portion of the foundation's current goal of $323,000, and nothing helps sell benefit tickets like having a star on hand.)
Nureyev seemed happy to be there, however, and he played up his star qualities rather quietly, expressing himself more through his dress than his manner--he was wearing a formal tunic modeled along Cossack lines and carrying a peasant shawl.
The rest of the troupe trooped into the room in Nureyev's wake and sat down to a late supper that reprised the dinner sampled by the 270 guests before the performance. The gala guests devoted the late reception to digging into the array of desserts that nearly crushed the lushly laden buffets, dancing to Gene Hartwell and The News, and ogling Nureyev, who gave every indication of a long familiarity with his role as center of attention.
Rush Hour Snarls
The Nureyev Gala was divided into two elegantly proportioned segments, or three, if one includes the performance that was placed in the middle. To meet an 8 p.m. curtain, the party commenced quite early and coincided with an unusually snarled rush hour that caused most of the guests to arrive late. Nerves frazzled by traffic were soothed quickly enough by champagne, however, offered during a reception in which the only topics of conversation were the imminent performance and the reported eccentricities of its star dancer.
Performing Arts founder and continuing benefactor Danah Fayman, who has yet to miss a gala honoring one of the many dance companies she has brought to the city in recent years, seemed aglow with anticipation.
"Having Nureyev here is wonderful," said Fayman. "I think that all the ballet Performing Arts has brought to the city has made a little change, has broadened appreciation for the arts and has made San Diego a little livelier."
Mary Cory, who shared gala chairmanship duties with her husband, George, put her opinion of the evening's star attraction quite simply. "Nureyev is not to be sneezed at," she said.
Foundation director Annala said that after meeting Nureyev, her worries about his reported bad temper were utterly dispelled.
"I was terrified of meeting him after the stories I'd heard, but I really enjoy him," said Annala, who added that she suspected that his reputation for being demanding stems from the actions of his agents, whom she in fact found quite demanding.
Annala spent Thursday evening giving Nureyev a tour of the city. After taking the dancer to see the movie "Wall Street," Annala drove him to La Jolla for dinner. For dessert, the dancer insisted upon being driven along the ocean, while he leaned out the window and gulped in great drafts of salt air.
The gala guests, for their part, gulped down a large meal of eggplant terrine, veal medallions and salad before dashing to the theater in time for the curtain.
Despite the fact that the performance ran considerably later than scheduled, most returned to the ballroom for the second reception. Among these was Sally Thornton, who found herself seated next to Nureyev and didn't seem to mind her placement in the slightest. Her husband, John Thornton, later reported that Nureyev was animated and amusing, and said that the dancer salted his conversation with phrases in Russian and French.
Among the guests were Eleanor and Art Herzman, Gary Manchester, Pauline and Stan Foster, Elena Miery Teran and her husband, television news pioneer Sig Mickelson; Maxine and Gerald Trimble; Polly and Paul Flask; Anne and Ronald Simon; Mary and David Nuffer; Suzanne and John Koch; Jacqueline Littlefield; Lee and Frank Goldberg; Joan and Irwin Jacobs; Virginia Lococo; Liz and Edward McIntyre; Rosemary KimBal with Raymond Elstad; and Donna and Bill Lynch.