SAN DIEGO — One sensed the happy ghosts of French master chefs Antonin Careme and Pierre Escoffier watching from the corners of Sally and John Thornton's silk-papered dining room Saturday, when these founding members of the American Institute of Wine and Food gave an extraordinary dinner in honor of visiting institute executive director Crosby Ross.
Several of the Thorntons' guests are fellow founding members of the organization created by leading American food maven Julia Child to study, preserve and propound the best of cuisine, both that created in this country since the Pilgrims bounded ashore at Plymouth Rock and the classic, international cooking that provides important alimentary ties between nations that otherwise have little in common.
Among guests of this rank present were restaurateurs Piret and George Munger; Fallbrook vintners John and Martha Culbertson, whose blanc de noirs champagne made for an effervescent cocktail hour; Jerrie and Maury Strom; Veryl and Aage Fredericksen; Martha and George Gafford; Carol and Mark Yorston, and JoAnn and Harold Clark.
The party seemed to be held more for the fun of it than for any specific reason--although Sally's red, white and blue centerpieces colorfully anticipated the Fourth of July--but Ross did make clear that San Diego will be home this fall and winter to two important conferences on the state of American cuisine. He hinted at a mouth-watering range of potential topics.
The dinner gave various Thornton pals, including hoteliers Doug and Betsy Manchester and Old Globe Theatre stalwarts Don and Darlene Shiley, the opportunity to see a much-discussed residence that has been three years in the remodeling. John Thornton mentioned that Saturday was but the fifth night he and Sally had spent in the house since the work began in 1984. He invited guests to take a tour that included what he called "the best damn bathroom on earth," a handsome expanse of marble that one guest described as like Versailles, but grander.
Since this, in the words of local institute chapter President Jacques Cornelis, was a gathering of the county's more serious foodies, the evening progressed with an elegant procession of dishes. As amuse-gueles to complement the champagne, there were canapes of truffled foie gras, and of pearl-gray caviar; the dinner began with lobster in mayonnaise, continued with stuffed veal tenderloin, and concluded with a tricolored medley of berries and ice cream.
Among other guests were Charmaine and Maurice Kaplan, Doralece Lipoli, Mary and Robert Allan, Judi and Randy Strada, B.J. and Hal Williams, and Lois and Bill Stanton.
Over the years, the Little Sisters' annual "Foreign Affair" masked ball has taken its guests from Africa to Oz to outer space, but at "Le Noir et Blanc," given Saturday in the U.S. Grant Ballroom as the sixth in the series, the group settled on France as a comfortably familiar destination.
Thus the 300 guests, many of whom dressed in black and white to meet the gala's theme, were treated to a Gallic menu of poulet a l'estragon and framboises au creme anglaise , as well as to a live auction that included such items as a trip to the French-speaking city of Geneva, Switzerland. (For those interested more in fantasy than theme, the live auction also offered an inspection of a MiG 28 jet at Miramar Naval Air Station with Navy Cmdr. Rick Ludwig, a fighter instructor in the Top Gun program.)
The event's proceeds actually will go to Big Brothers, which funds the Little Sisters program. The programs share the goal of matching children from single-parent homes with interested adults who serve as mature friends to these youngsters.
"We have 50 big/little sister matches in San Diego County right now, which is only a fifth the number of current big/little brother pairings," said ball chairman Kathy Willits. "There is a problem in that everyone knows about Big Brothers, but not many are aware that the same type of program is available for girls. But with the funds from 'Foreign Affair,' we should be able to expand the work of Little Sisters."
In addition to Willits, the ball committee included Chris Quinn, Pamela Anderson, Barbara Egan, Cheryl Miller, Diana Gordon, Jean Follestad, Melissa Pregill, Johanna Colapietro, Judy Chapman, Linda Hack and Ron Smith.
La Jolla arts patron and businessman Joseph Hibben--installed Wednesday as president of the San Diego Museum of Art and known nationally as the designer of the holding company format under which most savings and loan corporations operate--was presented the Distinguished La Jollan Award last Thursday at the annual Florence Riford La Jolla Community Fund recognition dinner, given for 400 guests in the ballroom of the La Jolla Marriott Hotel.