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You Look Fabious

It was two days before Valentine’s, and the press had gathered in a jewel box of a ballroom at the Hotel Bel-Air to see Fabio, the King of Romance. Three TV camera crews were panning the tables of fidgeting writers, gathering filler footage. Chatter was being chattered. Champagne was flowing like cappuccino, and vice versa.

Finally, Matthew Smith, senior brand manager of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! stepped up to a podium situated in front of a couple of appropriately slender Doric columns and started warming everybody up for Fabio’s entrance. As all the world knows, the boyishly craggy-faced model, who has appeared on more than 1,000 romance novel covers, is the cholesterol-free margarine’s official spokes-hunk.

Smith first introduced I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!'s new Web site (www.tasteyoulove.com), which takes the form of a secret diary. He clicked through the diary’s various sections: one recommending romantic vacation spots, one listing romantic Internet sites, one with a tongue-in-cheek “love test” (some giggling from the reporters at the words “tongue-in-cheek”), one giving a weekly installment of “A Thousand Flowers,” a cyberspace romance novella. In the first chapter, ash-blond, elfin-faced Katherine Burton is musing about her old love as Paris shimmers at her feet.

The recipe section of the diary was newsworthy because it included an application form for a recipe contest (recipes using I Can’t Believe etc., of course), with lots of prizes, the top one being $10,000 and a trip to New York. If you’re not on the Net, you can use the coupons that will appear in newspapers March 23 or send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Contest Requests, P.O. Box 6126, Parsippany, NJ 07054-7126.

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Finally he reached the section of the diary where you can see photos of Fabio--in fancy clothes, with his shirt off, riding his dirt bike and playing with a couple of his Great Danes (their names, we learned, are Thor, Apache, Blitz and Dakota).

This was the moment when the King of Romance himself strode into the room, wearing cowboy boots, loose trousers gathered at the ankle, a shirt open to the sternum and a bright red sports jacket. He was all unassuming affability, sort of what you’d expect Kato Kaelin’s grown-up brother to be like, calling out, “Hey, man, how’re you doin’?” here and there in an accent more like Schwarzenegger’s than Mastroianni’s (maybe it comes with having a powerful jaw).

He answered a couple of questions. For instance, what’s he into these days? Dirt-biking, was the answer; he’d invited along a couple of dirt-biking buddies to the event. “L.A.'s wonderful,” he said jovially. “There are thousands of miles of dirt-bike trails around here.”

The official business over, the reporters milled around for almost an hour, mostly waiting to get photographed with Fabio. Not 10 feet from him, however, stood a long table loaded with spectacular pastries made in the hotel’s kitchens using I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! There were cookies, tarts and lots of cakes--one was a gazebo with five chocolate columns rising from a chocolate ganache base to support an umbrella-like chocolate roof.

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Reporters ordinarily swarm toward a refreshment table like locusts, but here they scarcely went near the desserts. At most they were taking a tiny slice of the opera cake. Only two of the white chocolate mousses had been so much as touched.

What was going on? Were the reporters totally Fabio’ed? Had they all just eaten lunch? Were they reluctant to spoil the gorgeous display? Were they simply afraid the desserts really had been made with butter? Anybody who could answer those questions “no” was in big luck that afternoon.


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