When chef Jean-Pierre Vigato promises a "grand" chocolate dessert he means an outrageous chocolate dessert. The culinary finale at the premiere of the "Great Chefs" series at the Robert Mondavi Wine and Food Center was worth throwing away the calorie counter for. Up for tasting: chocolate mousse, chocolate sorbet and chocolate cake done three ways (one of them being a light-as-a-cloud bitter cake presented in a swirling pool of coffee-laced creme anglaise ).
Such was the sweet life on Tuesday night for about 60 guests of charming vintner Robert Mondavi and his wife, Margrit Biever. The new Costa Mesa center promises to regularly showcase international chefs like Vigato, who flew from Paris to whip up culinary delights such as duck foie gras flavored with vanilla and ginger, steamed turbot served on a bed of spinach greens and a breast of squab that had been soaked in cream (to make it perfectly tender, but of course).
Guests included Pierro Selvaggio, owner of Valentino's restaurant in Los Angeles; Mauro Vincente, owner of Ristorante Rex in Los Angeles; Anton Segerstrom; Toren Segerstrom, and Thomas Gurtner, general manager of the Four Seasons Hotel in Newport Beach.
Sensational touches: tables gleaming with sterling flatware, a phenomenon unseen in localpublic dining circles; sculpted tulips arranged inside crystal bubble bowls (created by the Mondavis' Napa Valley florist, Michael Rayner), and classical French music played on piano and flute.
Underwriters dinner: How do you honor the folks who enable galas to make mega-bucks? If you're the Hoag 552 Club, a support group for Hoag Hospital of Newport Beach, you ply them with fine wine and Michael Kang's cuisine and send them into the night with a ribbon-adorned box of mouth-watering truffles.
That's how it went on Monday for the underwriters of the 552 Club's annual Christmas Carol Ball, the Dec. 2 event that is expected to bring a whopping $90,000 to Hoag Hospital's coffers. Underwriters gathered at Five Feet Too restaurant at Newport Center Fashion Island, tipped tulips of Chardonnay and then sat down at place settings accented with orchid petals to dine on roasted monkfish salad, veal chop with ginger apricot sauce and checkerboard chocolate cake.
Hoag 552 Club president Bill Pierpoint estimated ball costs will be $50,000. And, because the underwriters have already come up with $62,000, all proceeds from the $552-per-couple event will be gravy. Pierpoint announced that the club's goal to raise $1 million for the Patty and George Hoag Cancer Center had recently been realized.
Jim Dale is ball chairman. Ball underwriters include Donna and John Crean, Kellina and Michael Hayde, Richard and Sandy Sewell and Newport Harbor Radiology Associates.
How sweet it was: They turned the tables at "Soiree by the Bay," the party on Saturday night staged by Founders Plus, a support group of the Orange County Performing Arts Center. Instead of smothering the dining room table with hors d'oeuvres during the cocktail reception, Turnip Rose caterers dazzled guests with a luscious display of desserts. For starters: Black Forest tart, pear tart, hazelnut tart, a strawberry wheel and a lemon cake so neon-yellow it had honorary co-chairmen Henry and Renee Segerstrom doing double takes.
Actually, the party held at the bay-front home of Martha and Dr. Hansel Benvenuti turned out to be three parties. Some guests enjoyed the landscaped walkway of the Harbor Island manse so much they remained there to dine on passed appetizers and sip their champagne floating with raspberries. Then there were the early birds who had managed to float all the way through the house; they spent most of the night living it up in a tent, bayside. Another group gathered in the living room by a crackling fire where a jazz trio granted song requests.
The cost of the soiree, estimated at $16,350, was underwritten entirely by Founders Plus members and friends. Proceeds of $23,000 will go into Founders Plus programs, which include distribution of unused and reduced theater tickets to arts lovers who cannot afford to pay the full price.
Vesta Curry is president of the group. Chairing the event were Nora Jorgenson and Shari Esayian. On the committee: Charles Margolin, Joe and Ethel Hunt, Jean Hamann, Sandy and Chuck McCune, Ann Pange, Robert Roberts, Cecil and Catherine Wright, Barbara Johannes, Maxine Gibson and Jan Landstrom.