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R S V P : An Equal-Opportunity Food Fest


After 15 years, Planned Parenthood Los Angeles Guild's annual "Men's Dinner"-- when the husbands of guild supporters help top local chefs prepare an elaborate gastronomic feast--has come of age. There were women in the kitchen this year.

"We decided it was not politically correct anymore" to allow only men to cook, said Evelyn Levitt, co-chair of Sunday's spread at Rex Il Ristorante.

"Women felt it was time they be included as sous-chefs," added co-chair Susan Levich. "Besides which, one of the three chefs de cuisine is a woman."

Indeed. Odette Fada, chef de cuisine at Rex, looked like she had her hands full--and not just of carciofino alle mandorle, acciughe e capperi (baby artichokes stuffed with anchovies and capers).

"Interesting," was all Fada could utter after seven hours in the kitchen directing 16 novice assistants, five of them women, cooking for 145 waiting dinner guests. Fada, along with Giacomino Drago of Drago and Il Pastaio and Angelo Auriana of Valentino, shared kitchen duties, each overseeing a different dish.

The location, all three restaurants' owners had agreed, would be Rex--"the most beautiful" restaurant, said Valentino's Piero Selvaggio, who was married in Rex's grand Art Deco room.

There was only one mishap. Warner Bros.' Ben Cowitt, husband of guild president Adria Cowitt, cut his finger while slicing eggplant.

And there was no shortage of volunteers, since no experience was required.

"I make a matzo brie once a year," said Gil Cates, who produces the Academy Awards telecast. "But I have a lot of regard for what goes on in the kitchen now. What surprised me is, it's not mechanized. It's a lot of hard manual labor. A little thing like cutting onions or shallots. You ever separate skin from the garlic? It's tiring ."

"You have to do something for the community, and as a dad with three daughters I thought it was a good cause," said Patrick Lopker, who works at the Disney Channel. His eyes locked on a tray being passed nearby.

"You see those little pastry boats here that are coming out? (It was the carciofino. ) They handed me the dough and said, 'Make a boat.' "

"This is the first time I've ever done anything like this and I'm hooked for life," said Bill Kobin, president of KCET, adding with complete confidence (or nearly so): "I just want you to know that I did the squid. With a lot of help. I don't mean to take credit."

The evening was expected to raise about $40,000 to provide reproductive health-care services to men, women and adolescents, regardless of their ability to pay. Planned Parenthood also supports education to combat teen pregnancy. "It's decreased nationwide," pointed out Adria Cowitt, "but is definitely increasing in L.A."

Of course, not everyone who supports the cause is required to don a toque blanche. Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti said the only meal he has mastered is breakfast. "So dinner is a little out of my league. I have to recognize my limits."

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