Global Gourmet Games raises more than $3 million, pays tribute to leadership honoree Richard Merkin

Dodgers Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda with Michael Milken at the Global Gourmet Games, the fundraiser that kicked off the Milken Institute Global Conference.
(Paul Bliese)

At the Global Gourmet Games benefit, guests didn’t just compete over their food knowledge. Enthusiasm counted too, and for this competition that pitted table against table — each named for a different country — team members came prepared.

Team Switzerland brought a poster-board cow. Team Norway wore horned Viking helmets, and Team China dressed in traditional Chinese brocade shirts. Team Mexico, however, handily outdid the competition by hiring a five-piece mariachi band and holding up signposts depicting a wall — as in the border wall President Trump wants to build.

Tommy Lasorda with Warren Lichtenstein.
Tommy Lasorda with Warren Lichtenstein. Paul Bliese

“This is a first, going to a dinner where [the table host] says, ‘Could you take your top off and put on the one that’s on your chair?’” said Candace Garvey, playing for Team China, which also included her husband Steve Garvey as well as Tommy Lasorda, both former Dodgers stars.

“This is the most unique dinner I’ve ever been to, bar none — and so fun,” she added.

The event

Candace Garvey and former Dodgers star Steve Garvey before changing into their costumes for the Global Gourmet Games.
Candace Garvey and former Dodgers star Steve Garvey before changing into their costumes for the Global Gourmet Games. Paul Bliese

The high-spirited and, at times, raucous April 28 affair raised more than $3 million for FasterCures, a center of the Milken Institute dedicated to accelerating the pace of medical discovery. Held at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills, the event was the start of the four-day Milken Institute Global Conference, which began Sunday.

Attended by more than 4,000 people from 60 countries, the conference will feature speakers as diverse as former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, baseball great Alex Rodriguez, fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger, entertainment mogul and actor Tyler Perry, Napster co-founder Sean Parker, actress Ashley Judd and hip-hop artist French Montana.

The scene

Actor John O'Hurley and his wife Lisa Mesloh join in the Global Gourmet Games in Beverly Hills.
Actor John O'Hurley and his wife, Lisa Mesloh, join in the Global Gourmet Games in Beverly Hills. Paul Bliese

Throughout the evening, guests sampled five offerings for each course, assessing calorie counts in cod, chicken, lamb and vegetarian entrees; ranking desserts according to fat content; guessing countries of origin for wines; and attempting to distinguish between beef, soy and a plant-based meat substitute.

Given the night’s cruise theme, there were also trivia questions relating to food and ships, and lest anyone fail to follow the rules, emcee Michael Milken made it clear, “All cheaters will be thrown overboard.”

Playing for Team Netherlands, figure skater Sasha Cohen, the 2006 Olympic silver medal winner, cheered as her team topped the scoreboard on the dessert quiz.

“We had the right answers, but we were out-voted,” joked “Blues Brother” director John Landis, seated beside his wife, Oscar-nominated costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis, at the USA table.

The presentation

Former NBA star John Salley and Natasha Duffy compete at the Global Gourmet Games.
Former NBA star John Salley and Natasha Duffy compete at the Global Gourmet Games. Paul Bliese

Between courses and questions about cranberries, asparagus and cruising, the night also launched the inaugural Tommy Lasorda Leadership Award, in recognition of individuals who embody the American standout’s legacy of leadership. In doing so, Milken called Lasorda, Garvey and others to the stage, before announcing Richard Merkin, president and chief executive officer of Heritage Provider Network, as the award’s first recipient.

The quotes

Richard Merkin, recipient of the inaugural Tommy Lasorda Leadership Award. Paul Bliese

“I certainly would not have ever thought there’d be a sentence that had the names Richard Merkin and Tommy Lasorda in [it],” said Merkin, after noting that he felt overwhelmed by the honor. “It’s always special to be honored, but it is especially special to be honored by an organization like FasterCures that has done so much to change the world.”

In a conversation at evening’s end, Steve Garvey called the dinner unique and wonderful, but the best part, he said was “celebrating [Lasorda,] my dear friend and manager and second father. … I always thought of him as a great coach of the game, and even better, as a teacher of life skills.”

The numbers

Proceeds came from a live auction, additional contributions and 360 guests who bought tickets from $2,500 and more or tables ranging to $100,000.

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Ellen Olivier is the founder of Society News LA.

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