SAN DIEGO — George Munger described the moment as "a fashion show for foodies." And for the kind of folks who live to eat--the crowd of 150 numbered more than a few such souls--it was indeed a tasty scene.
Munger, who with his wife, Piret, founded the Piret's restaurant chain in 1978, spoke in reference to the grand procession of six internationally acclaimed chefs then parading through the lobby of the Imperial Bank Tower, site of the largest of the county's five Piret's cafes. The men, in stylish suits and rose boutonnieres rather than the checked uniforms worn in kitchens, were introduced with trumpet fanfares and greeted with the sort of applause usually lavished on movie stars and other pop celebrities.
In 1986, to be a famous chef is to be a pop celebrity, at least in certain circles, and in the world of fine dining, these six are acknowledged superstars. Among them were Jeremiah Tower of San Francisco's Stars restaurant, and New Yorkers Pierre Franey, Alain Sailhac (of Le Cirque), Larry Forgione (of An American Place), Seppi Renggli of the Four Seasons and Albert Kumin, the noted pastry wizard who once presided over the White House kitchens.
Wolfgang Puck, the chef-proprietor of Los Angeles' ultra-trendy Spago, was to have been the seventh member of the group, but a kitchen mishap the previous day prevented his attendance.
All were on hand for the Sunday patrons' reception that preceded Monday's "Fete X Five," a novel fund-raiser for the March of Dimes. The gala, the first of its kind ever to be held here, allowed about 300 guests to go to one of the Piret's to enjoy an elaborate feast prepared by one of the chefs. Puck's wife and partner, Barbara Lazaroff, stood in for her husband, and Kumin prepared desserts for all five dinners.
Franey, who retired from the range some years ago to become a food-book author and journalist, participated as honorary chairman, a job that included recruiting the working chefs.
The event also provided plenty of jobs for local foodies, who flocked to the committee posts as eagerly as a group of French trenchermen attacking the table d'hote at a three-star restaurant. Jacque Powell and Nancy Hester served as chairmen of the event, with Judi Strada as co-chair.
When asked which party-planning task had been the most difficult, Powell responded, "That's easy--I had to figure out how to get to all five restaurants on the same evening." She added that a practical solution to this problem never did present itself.
Quite a few of the guests also bemoaned the fact that they would be able to sample only one chef's creations, a situation that was mitigated by the special hors d'oeuvre that each whipped up as his contribution to the Sunday reception. Among the fanciful tidbits were Forgione's deviled crab and oyster fritters, and Tower's salmon and tuna tartare canapes, which people who swore that they never would eat raw fish nonetheless wolfed down with gusto.
For the traveling chefs, this culinary odyssey did have its moments. Kumin startled the attendants on his jetliner when he trundled aboard boxes bearing more than 500 chocolate truffles; they could not go in the hold, where temperature changes might have turned the delicate, hand-dipped confections into an expensive pool of chocolate sludge.
Saturday morning, Alma Spicer (who with Luba Johnston chaired the patrons' reception) shepherded the New Yorkers up to Chino's vegetable farm in Rancho Santa Fe, where Seppi Renggli and Pierre Franey marched about the muddy fields, picking fresh corn and consuming it, raw, on the spot. Later, the group retired to Johnston's spread for a look at her orange groves and a light country lunch. (Alain Sailhac said that the North County countryside reminded him of Provence.)
A Sunday cruise aboard Fran Jenkins' boat (Jenkins and Jerrie Strom served as hostesses at Forgione's dinner at the Encinitas Piret's.) showed the visitors a view of the city from the sea, and later that evening, Sally and John Thornton played host to a dinner at the Westgate for several of the chefs.
Sally Thornton and vintner Martha Culbertson were hostesses at the dinner prepared by Sailhac. Also serving as hostesses at the Monday dinners were Jeanne Jones and Audrey Geisel, Lyn Heller and Kathy Glick, and Suzanne Figi and Carol Yorston.
Jonas Salk put in an appearance at the reception, where he remarked that he started his work on polio vaccine well before he heard of the March of Dimes but was appreciative of the assistance the group has given the Salk Institute. Also present were local March of Dimes chapter President Dick Daniels, Liselotte and Mike Terkel, Dixie and Ken Unruh, Georgia and Blair Sadler, B.J. and Hal Williams, Evelyn Truitt, Nancy Eckis, Marvin Ladin, Connie and John Desha, Marianne McDonald with Adrian Jaffer, Walter Fitch, Jeanne and Bill Larson, Pam and Herschel Price, and Bill Woods.