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Social Circuits

September 08, 2002|ANN CONWAY

Pageant Salute

"Did you know my dad?" That was the question the young son of a fireman killed in the Sept. 11 attacks asked L.A. County Fire Capt. Gary Walsh when he welcomed him to California this summer.

"I told him I didn't, but the L.A. County Fire Department was all part of his extended fire family," Walsh said during a gala reception that preceded a performance of the Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach. Walsh and fellow captains Ted Garcia, John Price and Steve Berro were guests of honor when the final season performance was staged at a benefit raising more than $200,000 for the Festival of Arts building fund.

More than 2,500 guests toured art exhibits, dined on gourmet fare and watched the "Heroes and Heroines"-themed production Aug. 31 at the Irvine Bowl. "These courageous officers not only offered their services at ground zero, they provided families with visits to Southern California where they had the chance to experience the hospitality for which the Southland is famous," festival board president Scott Moore told the crowd.

Joining with other members of the department, the men solicited donations and enlisted the help of airlines, hotels and amusement parks to "give 409 families a one-week paid vacation," said Garcia. "It was an incredible feeling for all of us."

Helping to host the families "was one of the most rewarding experiences I've had in my life," said Walsh, chairman of the Los Angeles County Firefighters Honor FDNY project. "I just saw a family off today."

Before the pageant, the firemen joined about 350 guests who'd paid $300 each to attend a private dinner at the Tivoli Terrace restaurant on the bowl grounds and, under a canopy of trees, dine on stuffed shrimp and filet mignon.

Dinner guests included actress Sally Struthers, who had just completed a run with singer Christa Jackson in "Always, Patsy Cline" at the Laguna Playhouse. "I love coming to this pageant," she said. "It's an evening you won't see anywhere else."

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Sweet Dreams

From Washington, D.C., to San Francisco, chef Julia Child has been feted with cakes fancy enough to rival those in her famous cookbooks. One towering confection was covered with curls of white chocolate. Another replicated her Cambridge kitchen. And when she again celebrates her 90th birthday at a Sept. 22 luncheon benefit in Los Angeles for KCET, a dramatic cake will be the centerpiece--a chocolate-buttermilk creation smothered with symbols of her nearly 40-year career as America's grand dame of culinary arts.

Sure, her birthday was Aug. 15. But that was celebrated at a seaside family reunion in Maine. Since February, Child has watched candles flame at a series of birthday bashes that have doubled as benefits for her favorite charities. "Any opportunity to raise funds for public television I'm for," said Child, whose cooking series has been a staple in KCET programming since 1964. "I wouldn't be anything if it weren't for public television."

The luncheon for 275 guests at the Four Seasons Hotel will also present a panel discussion moderated by Bon Appetit magazine editor Barbara Fairchild and featuring Child, French chef Jacques Pepin, Richard Sanford (of Sanford Winery and Vineyards) and TV producer Geoffrey Drummond. More than a dozen L.A.-area chefs--including Joachim Splichal, Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken--will be table hosts at the event.

And while guests, who will pay $300 to $10,000 a ticket--the latter gets you a seat with the birthday girl--will feast on gourmet fare, it's the presentation of the cake that will highlight one of the remaining salutes to the beloved chef. (Still to go: parties in Carmel and Tustin).

Whipped up by Four Seasons Hotel pastry chef Donald Wressell--winner of the gold medal at last year's World Cup of Pastry competition in Lyon, France--the 3-foot cake will be made of flour, powdered cocoa, buttermilk, eggs, vanilla and vegetable oil and "taste like the cake your grandma used to make," he said.

Wressell, 41, who also helped create Child's 80th birthday dessert, has been conjuring up the cake design for weeks. "It takes a while to think things through," said Wressell, who in 1996 made a chocolate replica of the National Air and Space Museum for the Smithsonian's 150th birthday celebration.

Foremost is taste, he said. No problem. The recipe was inherited from a former hotel food and beverage manager's mother, who used to make the rich chocolate cake with buttermilk icing for employees' birthdays. It was so delicious that Wressell tested it, put it on the menu and watched it become the hotel's most popular dessert.

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