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'Celebrity Cook-Off ' Adds Laughs to Menu

January 19, 1989|ANN CONWAY

Ha ha ha. Benihana restaurant was turned into Beni-haha on Monday night when supporters of the local chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation gathered for a "Celebrity Cook-Off."

Between bites of sizzling chicken and steak, guests howled as they watched such "celeb" chefs as Judge Calvin Schmidt and Supervisor Tom Riley try to wield some of the sharpest knives this side of a Samurai sword.

"No, no. This way!" coached Benihana chef Peter Leung, helping Schmidt capture--then split--a shrimp skidding across the hibachi grill. Ha ha ha.

And while the benefit was a feast and a hoot for Mike Ciecek, 12, he knew the reason for it was no laughing matter.

Last March, Mike was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, a chronic metabolic disorder that adversely affects the body's ability to manufacture and utilize insulin, a hormone necessary for the conversion of food to energy. People with juvenile diabetes must take daily insulin injections to stay alive.

"It hasn't changed my life that much," Mike said after finishing a meal he pronounced "delicious" except for the soybeans and the vegetables.

"I have to wake up a little earlier, take a little more time for myself. And I have to give myself an injection somewhere in my upper body--my arm or my stomach--twice a day, before breakfast and dinner. But I'm getting used to it. My parents don't have to remind me anymore."

Mike's advice to fellow juvenile diabetics: "Be as active as you can. Don't get out of control--be careful of what you eat."

The event was pulled together by Kitty Leslie, vice president in charge of fund raising for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. ("No, I don't have anyone in my family with diabetes," Leslie said. "But, coincidentally, 2 months after I joined the board, my oldest daughter came down with gestation diabetes, a form of the disease that lasts the term of a pregnancy. But she came out of it just fine.") "We have 16 tables of 10 sold tonight," said Leslie, sporting a persimmon silk jacket. "At two seatings!"

The first seating was set for 6:30 p.m., the second for 8:30. Both were sold out and then some. Not bad for a Monday night.

The idea for the cook-off, said Leslie, came from the foundation's office in Denver. "They called to tell me they were having a benefit at the Benihana there," she said.

So, like any savvy fund-raiser, Leslie trekked to Denver to "audit the affair."

"It was marvelous, too marvelous! They had three seatings and too many people. So, we raised our prices and kept it to two seatings." At $50 per person, proceeds were estimated at $8,000.

Champagne may have been on hand for the premiere night audience of "The Road to Mecca" at South Coast Repertory on Friday night. But it was an announcement by producer David Emmes that went to guests' heads. During his "curtain remarks" (given seconds before show time) Emmes said SCR would launch its California Play Festival in April with the world premiere of "Abundance," a new play by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Beth Henley. Heady stuff for any audience. Faces in the crowd: Kathy and Ron Merriman, Bobbin and James Vandeberg, Olivia and Andrew Johnson, Catherine and Delane Thyen, Lydia and Kenneth Himes, Sally and Ben Perks, Melody and Hal Schultz, Kimberly and Bob Peterson, and Jean Moriarty.

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