SAN DIEGO — A waiter in the anteroom of the Champagne Ballroom at the Sheraton Harbor Island Hotel presented his silver tray to a guest Saturday and murmured, "Try the liver sausage, ma'am, it's good."
The woman, one of San Diego's leading foodies, picked up a breaded morsel, gave it a contemplative once-over, and popped it in her mouth. A look of startled pleasure quickly spread across her features, and reaching for another tidbit, she said, "Oh, well, I suppose that one man's foie gras is another's liver sausage."
Seventy-five pounds of foie gras , the special goose liver that with black truffles and Beluga caviar ranks among the costliest and most luxurious of foods, was brought to the Sheraton kitchens for Saturday's Fete X Five, a gourmet gala that inaugurated the 50th anniversary year of the March of Dimes.
The remarkable dinner prepared by five of the country's most respected chefs (hence the name "feast times five") had a marked effect upon the 500 guests, many of whom appeared to be singing over their suppers between bites of tuna carpaccio in Chinese black vinegar and terrine of pheasant layered with foie gras and truffles.
The five chefs, including Bradley Ogden of San Francisco's noted Campton Place and Gerard Pangaud of New York's ultra-chic Aurora, also prepared the hors d'oeuvres passed during the cocktail reception.
The event expanded upon the original Fete X Five given last year by transforming a series of dinners into a single, extravagant, full-blown gala. The party netted some $150,000, or triple its predecessor's take, a fact that made event chairman Luba Johnston look every bit as pleased as the woman who discovered that the purported liver sausage was actually foie gras . Johnston also was more than a tad delighted by the sold-out attendance (" Every body is here tonight!" she said), as she was when her ticket proved to be the winner in the raffle for a deluxe trip to Paris.
Guests were welcomed to the cocktail reception by Fanfares d'Elegance, the trumpeters who opened the 1984 Olympic Games. This was the touch of co-chairman Dixie Unruh, who had previously hired the group to perform at her daughter's wedding.
"I sense a lot of happiness in this room," said Unruh, a reasonable enough statement given the fact that the guests looked more than happy to be nibbling crab-stuffed sweet pepper pancakes whipped up by Kathy Casey of New York's Maxwell's Plum and snapper Hemingway prepared under the direction of Tony Vallone of Houston's popular Tony's.
Later, an auction featured dinners donated by, among others, vintner Martha Culbertson and restaurateur George Munger.
At the reception, only one man entitled to wear a toque appeared before the public view, and he wore black tie. This was Pierre Franey, the highly respected former chef and current New York Times food writer who recruited the five working chefs. With philanthropist Cecil Green, noted medical researcher Jonas Salk and others, Franey was billed as one of the gala's specially honored guests.
Blending of Chefs
The guest chefs labored out of sight in the hotel's cavernous kitchens, where Sheraton executive chef Bob Brody oversaw coordination of their efforts. Interviewed in the midst of the steamy, pungent scene, Brody said that the collision of five egos he had viewed as a distinct possibility had failed to materialize.
"It's amazing how all these personalities have done a great job of working together," said Brody "It's amazing to me--there have been no characters. They get along!"
The guests, meanwhile, got along at the double when the doors were thrown open to the ballroom. The room included a giant "50" composed of balloons floating above the Bill Green Orchestra, a sea of tulips mounted in high-rising epergnes floating above the tables, and places set with sufficient silver for a full, five-course meal.
The guests danced between courses, maintaining plenty of appetite for a meal that included ravioli in vodka sauce, a salad of exotic greens, and fancy apple bread pudding, this last prepared by Nancy Silverton, former pastry chef at Hollywood's trendy Spago's.
Local March of Dimes chapter President Bent Petersen took the podium for a moment to tell the crowd that San Diego has a very special place in the history of the March of Dimes, since it is home to the Salk Institute, built by funds raised by the organization after it was launched in 1938 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Originally devoted to finding a cure for polio, the March of Dimes now devotes itself to the prevention of birth defects.
The visiting chefs finally had their turn to bow after the last crumb of the meal had been consumed. Introduced with fanfares, they were presented with gemstone eggs donated by Jeanne and Bill Larson. The group then huddled over dessert at a corner table and discussed food, naturally.