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Food Fanatics Toast Jacques Pepin

March 5, 2002, 12:00 AM EST

Careers Through Culinary Arts benefit Pier Sixty Tuesday, 02.26.02, 6 PM onward
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“There goes my diet!” Jacques Pepin joked as he was presented with a large chocolate portrait of himself from Chocolates a la Carte by Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) founder Richard Grausman. The famed chef was this year's honoree at C-CAP's annual tasting benefit, which brought together 36 of the city's best restaurants for a festive, food-filled fund-raiser at Pier Sixty.

As with most tasting events, the restaurants took pains to showcase the food, so decor was minimal. The event's cocktail tables were decorated with clever, kitchen-themed centerpieces by designer-architect and C-CAP volunteer Ronne Fisher. Fisher placed steel whisks, wooden spoons and rubber spatulas accompanied by red carnations and greenery inside clear glass vases filled with red, white and blue jellybeans and tied with striped ribbons. Other attractive decor included flower arrangements from floral designer Roberta Bendavid on the tables of Danny Meyer restaurants Gramercy Tavern (which featured pastry chef Claudia Fleming's exquisite sweet goat cheese mousse-filled cannoli with blood oranges and kumquats), Tabla and Union Square Cafe.

Possibly following in the lead of Esca's dead striped bass decor from Bon Appetit's Wine and Spirits Focus last year was Park Avenue Cafe, which displayed a row of Peking duck-style carcasses suspended from steel stringers behind a tasting station that offered marinated roasted duck breast. Down the aisle, La Caravelle's table with tastings of quail confit with gooseberries and amaranth featured a more traditional floral display from Zeze Flowers.

Possibly the most stunning item of the evening was a surprise birthday cake for benefit chair and Bon Appetit editor in chief Barbara Fairchild. The gorgeous, seven-tiered cake with mini lady fingers, spun sugar decorations and wrapped with pink ribbon was created by Fauchon pastry chef Florian Bellanger.

Honoree Pepin accepted his award in a typical French manner: He ascended the podium with a glass of red wine in hand, admitted it wasn't his first glass, and happily thanked the crowd for the honor. Al Roker served as the evening's host, and the audience included the usual food-scene fixtures, including Tim Zagat, Drew Nieporent, last year's honoree Sirio Maccioni, Bon Appetit's Caryl Chinn and Olives' Todd English, who eschewed chef whites for a black leather jacket. Some of the participating chefs included Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit, Bobby Flay of Mesa Grill, husband-wife chef team Michael Otsuka and Diane Forley (who's seven months pregnant) of Verbena, David Walzog of Monkey Bar, Philippe Bertineau of Payard Patisserie, Anita Lo of Annisa and Douglas Rodriguez of Chicama.

--Suzanne Ito

Read our coverage of last year's benefit...

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