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R S V P / ORANGE COUNTY : Father Knows Benefit of Martin Center : A donor's gift to the children of Laguna, sparked by the fires two years ago, continues to give. And receive.

November 09, 1995

Taco Bell Chairman John Martin was honored at a recent benefit for the John E. Martin Family and Youth Center in Laguna Beach.

Chef David Wilhelm dressed up his Chimayo restaurant at Fashion Island Newport Beach with pumpkins, palm fronds, sunflowers and colorful leaves for the "Autumn Harvest Celebration," which drew more than 200 guests at $200 per person. Native Americans from Montana entertained party-goers with ceremonial dances during the cocktail reception.

Tradition

Wilhelm created a five-course feast using traditional family recipes to create a Southwest-style banquet.

After guests sipped lobster and crayfish chowder from hollowed-out squash bowls, they feasted on wood-grilled mushrooms with Poblano polenta.

Next on the menu was a roast quail salad with sun-dried cranberry vinaigrette. "The recipe for the quail stuffing is one I've had forever," said Wilhelm, who wore a hand-painted chef's smock to the affair.

"If I don't have it at Thanksgiving, I'm miserable," he said.

The ingredients: corn bread, pine nuts, fresh tarragon, mushrooms, sausage and pippin apples. "Just like my mother made when I was growing up."

The main course, served up with a Pinot Noir by Cambria Vineyards, was roast loin of veal with potato gratin and a medley of root vegetables.

Dessert was warm apple and sour cherry crisp with cider butter sauce and cinnamon ice cream. ("Forget the calories," said one happy guest. "Whatever they are, they're worth it .")

Martin, who attended the dinner with his wife, Stefanie, was grateful to Wilhelm for the generous repast.

"This shouldn't be a tribute to me, but to David Wilhelm and [Chimayo manager] Sally VerVynck," Martin said. "They have worked so hard."

Martin was embarrassed about having a center named after him. "It wasn't something I sought," he said.

After the Laguna fires two years ago, he became a benefactor for the Top of the World school in Laguna Beach. He brought trailers to the scorched school property so students would have a place to talk with psychologists.

"After the fires, I rode my bike to Skyline Drive, where I had once lived in Laguna Beach," said Martin. The house was burned to its foundation. "And, this sounds bizarre, but I went to where my daughter's bedroom had been, and I don't think I have ever been so touched. I swear I could almost hear her."

It was then that Martin decided to do something for children traumatized by the fire. "I knew they must need counseling, " he said.

The center is still going strong. "There are kids out there with lots of other problems," Martin explained. "Alcohol and drug-related problems, so many things."

Since the center was founded, thousands of counseling sessions have been provided, Martin said. "We have four clinical psychologists and a wonderful staff of volunteers."

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