Thursday, November 27, 2003
At last year''s Feast for AIDS dinner at the Monterey Plaza Hotel, the food and wine flowed to an almost obscene level of excess, while sections of society that usually don''t raise a glass together knocked back sparkling wine and hors d''oeuvres on a deck overlooking the Monterey Bay.
Middle-aged gentlemen in black tie mingled with glamorous transvestites dressed in short, glimmery dresses. Drag queens with enormous bustlines shook their cleavage in the face of almost speechless diners, as naughty remarks flew recklessly from their carefully painted lips. Interspersed between serious speeches on the horrendous impact of AIDS, and trips to the silent auction table, was also some serious fun.
As waiters brought a new wine course in what seemed to be a span of every few minutes (my table couldn''t keep up, and we started hoarding our wines), drag celebrity impersonators sang, and Monterey County AIDS Project (MCAP) Director Wayne Johnson reminded the crowd of several hundred why we were here.
A week before this year''s event, held on the evening before World AIDS Day, Johnson says that HIV is on the rise, and that the theme of this year''s feast is "the challenge continues."
"Over 850 people in Monterey County have AIDS," he says. "And we estimate that 1000-1200 people are infected with HIV."
This year, the fundraiser will continue to fight the disease with not only more outrageously delicious combinations of food, (lomi salmon with wasabi oil on won top crisp, Sea of Cortez Bay scallop ceviche with kaffir lime leaf sorbet, thyme and brown sugar roasted mini pumpkins with seasonal baby lettuces) and wine (Gloria Ferrer sparkling, Pleasant Ridge Reserve with vintage port soaked tart cherries), but also the exclusive venue of the Beach and Tennis Club in Pebble Beach.
Jeffrey Jake, this year''s chair, and executive chef at the Lodge at Pebble Beach, has been with the fundraiser since its inception, and says he pushed for the location overlooking Stillwater Cove as a way to revamp the event. He also changed the line-up of participating chefs a bit.
"Obviously the Beach Club is a venue for a great party," he says. "I decided to pull in a couple of chefs who had been involved with the event previously, and some who had not. To change the mix up of chefs as well as the venue is a boost in the arm, which is important for charity events."
No one is complaining. This year''s chefs, who all donate their time and food, include Cal Stamenov from Bernardus, Jerauld Regester from Stillwater Bar and Grill, Craig Von Foerster from Sierra Mar at Post Ranch, Elias Lopez at Roy''s, Ben Brown from The Beach and Tennis Club, Boris Ilabaca from The Old Bath House, Ingrid Rohrer from the Organic Kitchen at Earthbound Farms, and R. Kent Torrey from The Cheese Shop in Carmel.
"We''ve got a really great group of chefs in there," Jake emphasizes. "Most are personal friends of mine and very generous with their time when it comes to important events like the feast. It''s been really very little effort to get them to support the cause and each other''s endeavors."
Jake says his interest with supporting AIDS grew out of both a concern for the impact of the disease, as well as a friendship with his former boss, David Beckwith, opening chef at Rio Grill, and Jake''s co-chef for the first Feast of AIDS.
"I worked for David and Rick Myroth, who were gay, and David lost a brother to AIDS," Jake says. "Because of that connection as well as how really frightening the beginning of the disease was, and how little we knew, I felt the need to contribute."
For Wayne Johnson, the bottom line is that the event, while fun and lighthearted, is the largest fundraiser of the year for MCAP, money desperately needed for housing and services for HIV and AIDS infected people.
"We anticipate raising in excess of $80,000," he says. "At MCAP, we believe HIV is more prevalent in the county than generally estimated."
THE 13TH ANNUAL FEAST FOR AIDS IS SUNDAY, NOV. 30, AT 6PM, AT THE BEACH AND TENNIS CLUB, PEBBLE BEACH. $195. 394-4747