The two-day-long celebration for Chef Art Smith’s 50th birthday party was star-studded from beginning to end: There are so many people who love and admire him that it took a place like Soldier Field to hold them all this year for World Festival! The first party was by invitation only at the James Hotel on Sunday evening, February 28th. One hundred fifty friends paid $1000 for a sit-down dinner with eight world class chefs each presenting and describing their own courses. Starting course was steamed moi (known as the fish of royalty) served with a shrimp and pork dumpling with lemongrass black bean ginger sauce served by Chef Alan Wong. Second dish was cider-glazed pork belly presented by Chef Gavin Kaysen. The third delicious course by Chef Barbara Lynch was chicken meatball lasagnettes with perigueux sauce and the fourth course included stuffed shrimp, goat sausage and stone ground grits presented by – who else – Chicago’s own Chef Stephanie Izard (She’ll soon be opening her own restaurant called “The Girl and the Goat”). The final course was my favorite: buttermilk fried chicken, country ham with Art’s mom’s jam, pickled quail egg with Yukon gold potatoes by Chef Rey Villalobos. I’m surprised anyone was able to walk out of there!! But the evening was packed with excitement and entertainment from beginning to end. Common Threads’ Executive Director Linda Novick O’Keefe, resplendent in a frothy yellow Burberry dress, welcomed the crowd and then Jesus Salguiero, Art’s life partner, delivered a heartfelt speech that had everyone in tears. Famous and gorgeous Chef Nigella Lawson was also on hand all the way from England to give the champagne birthday toast. She said, “We love you when you’re thin, we love you when you’re not thin…we just love who you are!” Entertainment was provided first by "American Idol" finalist Michael Johns (who had the ladies swooning at the front tables) then Chef Stephanie Izard gave a charming toast: “Art keeps getting smaller and smaller in his waist but bigger and bigger in his heart.” I'll say, with his 90-pound weight loss (325 down to 235), he is a shadow of his former self and now truly is the role model he's always hoped to be for the many children he mentors. The top live auction items on this evening included a trip to London for two with business class airfare courtesy of American Airlines, lunch with Chef Nigella Lawson and dinner at Chef Jamie Oliver’s restaurant. It went for $14,000. Art donated a dinner for six in his home plus four Oprah tickets which brought $10,000. There was a terrific sports package that included lunch for 12 in Halas Hall prepared by Chefs Giuseppe Tentori and Bill Kim while watching a Bears practice plus six tickets to a game of the winner’s choice. This package also offered a tailgate party by Chefs Tentori and Kevin Hickey plus four more tickets for a Bears pre-season game. This exciting package went for only $8500! (Don’t you wish you had been there?) Chef Stephanie Izard donated a dinner for 12 prepared in the winner’s home which raised $8500. Amy Cox, founder of Cutting Edge Culinary & Garden Consulting, donated a backyard makeover which included a Mario Batali brick oven as well as a dinner party prepared by Chefs Paul Kahan and Paul Virant with dazzling desserts by Chef Gale Gand! This wonderful package raised $13,000…another great bargain! There was a dream getaway Admiral’s package donated by friends from The Bitter End Yacht Club on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands that included a seven-night stay for two in a villa or suite, three meals daily, unlimited use of the Club’s fleet of boats, a sailing course, daily snorkeling trips, island excursions and champagne and sunset cruises…whew!!!! Makes me wish I were there now!!! This package raised $7500 for Common Threads. After the auction, Art’s gorgeous birthday cake was presented by a group of Small Threads. The cake’s topper had the number $85,000 on it which was the amount a group of Art’s wealthy friends gave him on this night for a surprise birthday present. Then there was a video presentation which featured some friends offering birthday wishes. Seen on the screen were Charles Annenberg Weingarten as well as Oprah who gave Art a surprise birthday check for $250,000. Seen in the crowd of A-listers were Mayor Daley arriving with Desiree Rogers, MK Pritzker, Julie and Fred Latsko, Steve Lombardo, Judd Malkin, Katherine Chez, Terry Newman, Art's mom Addie May, Brian McCormick, Sari Zernich, Todd Hatoff, Hollye and Jeff Jacobs, Kristina and Mike McGrath, Virginia and Norm Bobbins, David Blowers, Marilyn and David Vitale, Caryn and King Harris, Gigi Pritzker, Michael Pucker, Lee and Tom Baur, Mimi and Bob Murley, Mayari Pritzker, Father Jack Clair, Gail Simmons, Sarita Dandamudi, Jannie and Elliot Pearlman, Helen Melchior, Rhonda Sanderson, John Amato, Paul Iacono, Dori Wilson, Rich Varnes, Amanda Puck, Manolis Alpogianis, Ken Norgan and Mario Santiago among others. The fifth annual World Festival followed on Monday night in Soldier Field and brought over 900 guests who sampled tastings from 60 chefs from all over the world. It was a night to remember and everyone had so much fun! Another auction was presented on this evening by two hysterical comedians from Second City, Brad Morris and Joe Canalli. They had the crowd in stitches and proved to me that comedy helps in the live auction business! Now let’s talk about the DJ!!! OMG he had EVERYONE dancing! Art even grabbed me for a round on the floor and no one wanted to leave! Remember this name: DJ Sye Young, the best I’ve heard in a loooooonnnngg time! Jakob Dylan, son of Bob, performed at the VIP after-party at the James Hotel. During this two-day celebration, $1.2 million was raised to support Common Threads’ after-school cooking program for low-income 8 to 12 year olds! The host committee included Lee Blackwell Baur, Katherine Chez, Lisa Erspamer, Brian McCaskey, Sue and Mike McCloskey, Ken O’Keefe and Jason Stephens, Mayari Pritzker, Patrick Sheahan, Marilyn Vitale, Linda Yu and yours truly. If you couldn’t be there this year, mark your calendars now for next year for Monday, March 7th, 2011!!! It’s an event you will never forget, not only for the fun and food quotient but more importantly for the support it brings to this worthy and much-needed organization. Special thanks to Caitlin Saville for the fab fotos (see more here) and I also want to give a shout out to my friend Kate Gross who works with Sea to Table, a family-owned company that works with fishermen to develop better markets for their catches, shipping directly overnight to some of America’s best chefs. For World Festival, they donated fish for Stephanie Izard, Mark Mendez and Kevin Hickey as well as shrimp for Art’s Sunday night supper!
The Dana Hotel’s Vertigo Sky Lounge was the venue for the 12th Annual Gift of Sight’s “Cocktail Kaleidoscope Kick-Off Party” celebrating this year’s Man of Vision, Greg Hyder! Over 150 guests were there to party with Greg, drink champagne and try on glasses from Spex, one of this year’s Visionary sponsors. Dana manager Britt Szepsy had incredible appetizers served from the hotel’s hot restaurant, Aja, and there was a ball gown presentation by "Project Runway" alum Steven Rosengard. This year’s event will be held at the Peninsula on May 21st. Chair Amy Wimer, co-chairs Dr. David Donnersberger and Dr. Clare Kenneally and Associate Board Chair Franco La Marca, promise this will not be your grandmother’s Gala! I’m sure with Greg as the honoree, it couldn’t be even if it wanted to! Seen in the rooftop lounge were Matt Carroll, Jessica and Ryan Baker, Ben Soldinger, Trevian Kutti, Paul Iacono, Jim Smith, Maria Zec, Sheryl Dyer, Jean Antoniou, Brad Griffith and Tiffani Kim, Hazel Barr, Bob Clifford, Bonnie Schultz, Sherrill Bodine, Rhonda Sanderson, Aliza Fulton, Lisa Gutierrez, Simona Garcia, Charles Hocevar, Samantha Amato, Tom Kehoe, Heinz Kern, Mary Ann Rose, Ken Norgan, David Brandt, Wayne Harth and John Regas among many others. The Gift of Sight Gala is the major fundraiser benefitting the Midwest Eye Bank. For ticket info and more details, please visit
Who doesn’t love Bob Fosse??!! Well, now’s your chance to see some of his magic again at Thodos Dance Company’s “All That Jazz Spring Benefit” on Saturday, March 13th, at the Chicago History Museum. There will be cabaret entertainment by Tommy Hensel and Dan Stetzel, a silent auction, wine roulette, edibles from Food for Thought and dancing with the Thodos stars. The benefit will also feature a performance by the Menomonee Club/Thodos Dance Chicago Youth Ensemble followed by a gala performance of “Fosse Trilogy” by Thodos Dance Chicago. This contemporary company also teaches young students around the city through dance education classes. Congrats to co-chairs Elizabeth Sharp and Sophie Bross for what I know will be a great night of fun and dance! “All that work. All that glitter. All that pain. All that love. All that crazy rhythm. All that jazz…” Can’t wait! For tickets and more info, please call 312-266-6255 or visit www.thodosdancechicago.org.
My little Oscar asides: I loved JLO’s dress by Armani Prive! It fit her exquisitely and the side train was so chic and dramatic…now if only her husband was George Clooney (They'll always have "Out of Sight" though)! Also, I love SJP (Sarah Jessica Parker) and I loved the BACK of her Chanel dress (from the front, she looked like she was wearing my headboard)! And don’t get me started about Charlize Theron’s “cinnabun” dress. OMG I don't care if it was John Galliano for Dior...epic fail! All in all though, a very beautiful Oscar crowd!
Have a wonderful week and I will see you next time!