Monday, April 11, 2011

The Insatiable Journalist Part 5: Glamorous Beyond Anything

Number 61 on my Life List is "go to a gala." Tucked between "hike in a rain forest" and "sing karaoke," it represents the modern day lingering of any Disney Princess fantasy I might have indulged as a child and a desire to have some sort of standard for knowing when I'd really "made it."

Well, consider it "made." On Thursday I attended the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts opening night gala at the Kimmel Center. It was the second time in the past week that I got all dressed up to air-kiss and make small talk with Philly's high society.

It started on Tuesday night. Chef Georges Perrier was the guest of honor at the Flavors of Philadelphia dinner benefiting the American Liver Foundation. Since Georges was going to be there, so was I. The event started, naturally, with a cocktail hour that was much more about schmoozing than it was about eating. Sponsors like It's a Cupcake served up bite-sized savory options such as cornbread topped with pulled pork and the like. Chef Perrier arrived surprisingly early, inspiring Patti to ditch our conversation and chase after him calling "Chef! Chef!"

I presume she eventually tracked him down but by then dinner was being served up inside the Loews Hotel Millennium Ballroom. A series of tables formed about a dozen semi-circles around the room. At the break in each circle a cooking show style mini prep station was manned by head chefs from respectable restaurants around the city. I was at the Le Castagne table where Chef Brian Wilson served up asparagus topped with a poached egg, mushroom risotto and seared Ahi Tuna. Everything was delicious - the mushroom risotto in particular made the whole event worthwhile - and paired with a selection of wines that even my unsophisticated palate appreciated.

Chef Perrier made a brief speech thanking the organization for the honor and recognizing the participating his own unique way ("I hate chu! Chu zteal all my buziness!" he said of the French chef in attendance).

Two days later, I joined Georges, Patti, Mayor Nutter, and 850 of the best-dressed Philadelphians at the Kimmel Center to celebrate the first ever PIFA. This year is Parisian themed which means first, that Le Bec-Fin and Chef Perrier are the center of the epicurean component and second, that there was a crepe cart and an overwhelmingly decadent display of French pastries set out during the cocktail hour.

The event was glamorous beyond anything I've ever witnessed in real life. I sipped champagne and wondered about the relevance of jugglers and stilt-walkers while a quartet serenaded the black-tie attendees. In due time, we filed into the vaulted Verizon Hall to witness Chef Perrier receive the festival’s first annual Cculinary Visionary Award and settled in for a joint performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra and Pennsylvania Ballet.

The only drawback was that at $750 a pop for tickets, my press pass didn't cover the Wolfgang Puck catered dinner. Fortunately, a press lounge and the light show featured on the replica Eiffel Tower kept me sufficiently entertained long enough to witness the aerial acrobatics (performers suspended from the ceiling scaled the Kimmel Center walls and danced at a gravity-defying impossible angle) over dessert.

I'll be heading back to the Kimmel Center on Monday for the press welcoming of the eleven chefs from France paired with French chefs around Philly for the duration of the PIFA celebration. And even though I missed out on dinner on Thursday, I've heard a rumor that Wolfgang Puck will be catering this press event as well.

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