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Great Chefs, Fine Food and a Good Cause : The Orange County Region of the National Kidney Foundation serves up its annual fund-raiser with panache.


NEWPORT BEACH — O.C. foodies paid their money ($75 a head) and took their choice Sunday afternoon at a festive gala hosted by the Orange County Region of the National Kidney Foundation.

The foundation's eighth annual Great Chefs of Orange County benefit, traditionally one of the major food events in these parts, was put up with panache in the ballroom of the Four Seasons Hotel in Fashion Island, and with about 25 guest chefs and more than a dozen wineries participating, the status quo regarding fine foods held firm.

As with most such events, the one-price admission allowed the guests--several hundred hungry, well-dressed noshers--to ride all day, filling plates as often as desired and then filling them up again. Among many notable things were a delicious confit of duck salad with raspberry vinaigrette from Byron Gemmell of Chanteclair in Irvine; the trendy cured salmon called gravlax contributed by new John Dominis (of Newport Beach) executive chef Lasse Sorensen, and the toothsome, mocha-flavored cream puffs from Tim Gluck of Etienne's in San Clemente (one of which shot a projectile of filling directly onto my red and green plaid shirt as I bit into the thing. Lucky for me, I left my Armani shirt and Versace tie at home, unlike most of the fashion plates present).

The pastas seemed to be everyone's food of choice. Paul Squicciarini, who has just replaced Roseanne Ruiz at Laguna Beach's Sorrento Grill, dished out a terrific wild mushroom lasagna layered with shredded Muscovy duck, for example, while Susan Kaitz of the hot new Sfuzzi in Costa Mesa wowed 'em with her orecchetti (ear-shaped noodles) with a light sauce of zucchini, dried tomatoes and pine nuts.

There was Asian food, too--chicken curry from Bangkok IV in Costa Mesa, snacks from Five Feet in Laguna Beach cooked up by owner Michael Kang, and fascinating fare from Regency Caterers of the Hyatt Newporter, to my taste the most memorable food of the afternoon, such surprises as ethereal Thai coconut custard in pumpkin slices and Indonesian chicken in exotic Bumbu Bali spices.

Fine vintage wines from such producers as Robert Mondavi, champagnes from the excellent Maison Deutz and dessert elixirs from Quady and others rounded out the menu along with a brace of chocolate-rich pastries, tried and true favorites such as tiramisu, marinated fruits and several homemade candies.

After all the richesse, though, I kind of longed for a good cup of espresso.

For further information about the foundation or next year's event, call (714) 962-7675.

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