REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK : Summit an Appetizing Task for Press

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As the economic summit has evolved over the last few days, a central theme of the occasion seems to have come down to this: What else is there to eat?

This city, hoping to overcome the tarnished image brought on by the oil-bust years, is doing it up right in the gastronomic department, offering the visiting world press everything from seafood gumbo to barbecue. But perhaps the most impressive example of a desire to please began Monday at the dining area of the Brown Convention Center, which is serving as the press center.

There, eight Japanese chefs imported from California are keeping a buffet going around the clock. The purpose was to satisfy the palates of Japanese journalists at the summit, but it was clearly the most popular buffet line.

On another food note, there is already a long list of people who want to buy the china, crystal and silver supplied by Tiffany & Co. for the state dinner at the end of the summit.

The slogan here is "Houston's Hot," and it certainly is. But it didn't appear to faze the seven leaders of the summit nations. The temperature was running well into the 90s on Monday; the humidity was at equally stratospheric levels. While others wilted, though, the heads of government and their spouses managed to appear unfazed during the colorful opening ceremonies at Rice University.

They had a secret.

The reviewing stand on which they sat benefited from a bank of air conditioners hidden beneath it and blasting cold air up at them. Everyone else, of course, had to cope as best they could.

The lights went out Monday when White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu was delivering a briefing. Sununu couldn't resist this query to the reporters when the lights went back on.

"How many of you noticed?" he asked.

One thing people have difficulty fathoming about Houston is the lack of traffic in the downtown area, particularly after dark, when the sight of a car becomes a rarity because of the non-existent night life.

"It's kind of like they dropped a neutron bomb," said a Washington journalist who had to drive for miles Sunday before he found an open drugstore. An Italian journalist was also puzzled.

"Why are there no people on the street?" he asked.

Still smarting over President Bush's declaration some time ago that he hates broccoli, the broccoli growers dumped 40 tons of the green vegetable near the site of the summit last Friday as a form of protest. Then some of Houston's most prominent chefs prepared broccoli dishes.

And on Monday, a woman identifying herself as Miss Broccoli stood outside the convention center handing out reading material about its benefits.

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