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Art of Dining: 3,979 Calories : An 8-Course Meal Raises $200,000 for Museum

May 03, 1990|PAMELA MARIN | Pamela Marin is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

The next day, they swam laps, jogged on the beach, exercycled, Nautilized, Stairmastered or otherwise atoned.

Maybe. Or maybe they napped, with visions of raspberry cinnamon souffle tart with caramel sauce dancing in their heads.

Whatever they did on Monday, the 450 guests of Sunday's Art of Dining III surely reflected on the marathon gourmet meal that slid down their gullets the night before. And the wine (maybe they munched a few aspirin) that complemented each course.

"For all the health-conscious people," chef Joachim Splichal told the banquet crowd, as dessert was served, "the calorie count of (this meal) is 3,979."

A few groans answered Splichal's arithmetic, a ripple of laughter rose from the tables, then the happy clinking of silverware on plates resumed.

As it has in previous years, the three-hour, eight-course food fest--hosted by the Business Council of the Newport Harbor Art Museum--took place in the Four Seasons Hotel in Newport Beach. The $250-per-person benefit raised an estimated $200,000 for museum exhibitions and collections, thanks to a $100,000 underwriting gift from Judie and George Argyros.

Splichal, owner of L.A.'s Patina restaurant, coordinated the culinary efforts of nine other chefs, with technical assists from a hotel staff that included 24 line cooks, five executive stewards and 55 servers, according to Jose Barragan, director of banquets.

Annotating the proceedings, emcee Michael Mondavi set a pleasantly irreverent tone, veering from quirky personal comments ("Isn't nepotism great?" the wine scion began) to an insider's critique of the liquid portions of the meal.

The fume blanc accompanying the eggplant caviar appetizer was said by Mondavi to have "crispness and life." The Pinot Noir served with the truffle-seasoned pasta dish was said to be "very velvety and very soft," while a "more structured and more intense" Cabernet Sauvignon was poured with the roasted lamb chop entree.

Even those who never thought of a drink as having a "structure" could appreciate Mondavi's description of the vin served with dessert. "In Napa, we call this the navel wine," he said, because it "should be consumed from the navel of a friend."

Before each course, the chef who dreamed up the dish stood rather uncomfortably in front of a closed-circuit camera in the kitchen holding a sample serving. Two huge screens in the banquet hall relayed the image of a smiling chef before the cameraman zoomed in for a Big Brotherish close-up of the food, which hovered over the black-tie crowd while a small army of white-gloved waiters marched from the kitchen.

Splichal enlisted colleagues Susan Spicer of Bayona in New Orleans; Charlie Trotter of Charlie Trotter's in Chicago; Christopher Gross of Christopher's in Phoenix; Pierre Herme of Fauchon in Paris; Hubert Keller of Fleur De Lys in San Francisco; Michel Galloyer of Le Trianon in Angers France; Andre Mandion of Mandion in Anglet Saint-Jean, France; Debra Ponzek of Montrachet in New York; and Michel Pieton executive chef of the Newport Beach Four Seasons Hotel.

The dinner was co-chaired by Samuel Goldstein and Samuel Haynes.

Among guests were Joan and Don Beall, Marion and Jack Shea, Berdie and Harry Bubb, Susan and Timothy Strader, Kathryn Thompson and Gus Owen, Elizabeth and Tom Tierney, Pat and Dick Allen, Janice and Roger Johnson, Deeann and Al Baldwin, and Lee West, who donated a Jaguar that was sticker-priced $57,910 and bought by the Bubbs in a between-courses live auction for $54,000.

Back to Nature: The Museum of Natural History and Science drew more than 600 guests to a private slice of South County wilderness on Saturday for "A Nature Affair"--an afternoon fund-raiser and educational event featuring guided nature walks, a steel drum band and a Mexican fiesta.

Held on a sunbaked five-acre campground in San Juan Capistrano--part of Rancho Mission Viejo, the vast O'Neill family holdings--the $40-per-person ($10 for kids) benefit raised an estimated $20,000 for the museum, according to Executive Director Dudley Varner.

Guests got their first taste of nature when they pulled off Ortega Highway onto the mile of gravel road leading to "Campos de los Amantes" (roughly, "Lovers Fields")--the taste, smell and feel of dust billowing up to their windows.

After parking in the tall grass outside the fenced-in campground, the nature lovers headed to the canteen for sodas, beer, wine and margaritas, then toured exhibits set in the shade of California oaks on the perimeter of the field.

Native plants and trees brought by a local nursery were on display, as were butterflies, spiders, silkworms, turtles and seven raptors from the Orange County Bird of Prey Center in Villa Park (one of whom, an adult male great-horned owl, was ceremonially set free at day's end).

Paul Apodaca, curator of folk art at the Bowers Museum, told folk tales and Indian stories. Kristin Clark demonstrated the hand spinning of wool, cotton and flax. Other booths featured basket weavers, native jewelry and experts on subjects ranging from earthquakes and liquefaction to Orange County mountain lions.

Mike Berment and the Despers performed Caribbean music. A late-afternoon lunch of Mexican specialties from the nearby O'Neill-owned El Adobe restaurant was served buffet-style.

Varner said the museum, which now operates in a 7,000-square foot temporary location in Newport Beach, will move to another centrally located site this summer, where it will remain for several years until a permanent residence is built on county-donated land in the planned community of Aliso Viejo.

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