First, the good news: "The Great Chefs," those celebrations of the culinary arts staged regularly by the Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley, are coming to Orange County. Via demonstrations and black-tie gala dinners (with rivers of wine, but of course), the cooking of internationally acclaimed chefs will be showcased at the new Robert Mondavi Wine & Food Center in Costa Mesa.
Then, the great news: They're here to stay. "Great Chefs" will have its local premiere on Nov. 14 with Jean-Pierre Vigato cooking up a menu "served like you will never see a dinner served," promises Deborah Fabricant, the center's director of special events.
In 1980, Vigato opened Grandgousier, an intimate bistro in the Montmartre district of Paris. Because his success was so stunning, the Italian chef created a larger restaurant--Apicius--named after a Roman gourmand. That spot, a haunt of the international who's-who set, has been awarded a prestigious two-star rating by the picky-picky Michelin Guide.
On the menu for the premiere: a first course of fresh duck foie gras flavored with ginger and vanilla, served up with Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc 1987. The second course will feature steamed turbot with aromatic herb dressing accompanied by Mondavi's 1986 Reserve Chardonnay. Then comes a breast of squab with giblet brochette and truffle sauce, served with the winery's Cabernet Sauvignon 1978 Reserve. Dessert, a "grand chocolate" surprise, will be served with Sauvignon Blanc Botrytis (aka "noble rot"--a nectar so godly it has been a favorite of royalty for centuries).
Fifteen hundred invitations have gone out to local corporate and arts leaders for the premiere event, which, for $185 a person, gets them into the dinner dreamed up by Vigato, Paris' "chef of the hour," says center director Eric Hansen (a $260 tab also gets them into the Mondavi kitchen to watch Vigato conduct a demonstration earlier in the day). The first 80 people to respond get to attend the dinner. The facility's outdoor green area can accommodate up to 500, but for the "Great Chefs," Mondavi likes to keep things cozy.
Why did Mondavi set its sights on Orange County? "Because it's the most important area of the country," says Hansen, whose credits include being wine director for the exclusive Kapalua Bay Hotel on Maui, Hawaii, for 12 years. "As far as food and wine go, Southern California is on the leading edge of wine awareness and wine culture. This area is also a corporate mecca. Many corporations have home offices here. And many corporations have very important offices here."
When the center isn't on stage with "Great Chefs," it will be bustling with food and wine seminars, wine tastings and private dinners and luncheons (some whipped up by the winery's Napa Valley chefs, others by Alan Greeley, chef/owner of the Golden Truffle in Costa Mesa).
In fact, arts philanthropist and mall mogul Henry Segerstrom--co-managing partner of C.J. Segerstrom & Sons, owner of South Coast Plaza--will be lunching with Robert Mondavi and his wife, Margrit Biever, at the Food and Wine Center on Nov. 8. That night, the Mondavis will accompany Segerstrom and his wife, Renee, to the Performing Arts Center to attend the premiere of "The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber" starring Sarah Brightman.
"The Segerstroms and the Mondavis have established a relationship," says Hansen, noting that the new center is in the South Coast Metro corridor, where C.J. Segerstrom & Sons has developed acres of property.
Morsels: Dan Camp, who formerly managed the Four Seasons Hotel in Newport Beach, and now manages the Carlyle hotel in New York ( the favorite Manhattan resting place of former First Lady Nancy Reagan), will join such Big Apple society types as Pat Buckley and Dominick Dunne on Halloween for a bash in the hotel's Bemelman's Bar. The bar's star, pianist Bobby Short, has requested his pals to dress as their favorite song title. What tune will Camp portray? "New York, New York" is a strong contender, says Camp, who has come to love the Carlyle, located at Madison Avenue and 76th Street. Even though Camp calls his new position "a dream job," he misses Newport Beach. "I miss my friends and the weather ," he says. . . .
Calling it "a somewhat serious party," Anton Segerstrom, operations manager of South Coast Plaza's Crystal Court, says a sit-down dinner for Orange County's serious collectors of contemporary art will be staged on Nov. 1 at the new Works Gallery at Crystal Court. Special guests at the affair for 50 will include artists Billy Al Bengston and his pal, Ed Ruscha, both members of L.A.'s Paint Box School, says Segerstrom. Dinner will be catered by Bangkok IV. . . .
Don Laffoon executive director and founder of Stop-Gap, a theater group that uses plays and workshops to confront emotional crises through "drama therapy," will receive the coveted "Alexis de Toqueville Award" at Le Meridien Hotel in Newport Beach on Nov. 5. Hosting the event will be members of the Alexis de Toqueville Society, an exclusive fund-raising arm of United Way of Orange County. . . .