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Joining me at the American Liver Foundation's 11th Annual "Flavors of Orange County" gala were, from left, Kathy Hamilton, Gary Dudley, and Noel Hamilton

Joining me at the American Liver Foundation’s 11th Annual “Flavors of Orange County” gala were, from left, Kathy Hamilton, Gary Dudley, and Noel Hamilton

I attended the inaugural “Flavors of Orange County” gala benefiting the American Liver Foundation in 2004, and I was totally blown away by the concept. I had never attended a food event where each guest was seated at one of Orange County’s top chef’s tables, to have him or her orchestrate a fabulous repast for the guests at the table. It was an innovative idea, and since I’m a “foodie” at heart, I was in!

It was a memorable event for me for another reason. The gala chair, Kathy Hamilton, whom I met for the first time at the gala, and I became fast friends from that time forward. She and her husband Noel, an executive with Wells Fargo, have sponsored the gala through the bank for many years. I also met Gary Dudley at the inaugural “Flavors,” and was so impressed with him. He was one of the leaders of ALF and really behind the inaugural “Flavors” benefit. He was also in need of a liver transplant and was on the transplant list. He hasn’t had the transplant but through new strides in treatment, he is doing remarkably well and is currently serving as ALF’s Board of Directors Chair.

This year’s “Flavors” returned once again to the Fairmont Newport Beach’s alfresco Bamboo Garden, where each of the chefs presided tableside creating their food magic for each table of 10 to 15 guests. What was really impressive was that the participating chefs, their staffs and the restaurants donated their time, expertise and food costs for the occasion. To that end, it was later announced that $90,000 was raised in net proceeds for the prevention, treatment and cure of hepatitis and other liver diseases through research, education and advocacy. Here! Here!

Mistress of ceremonies Jamie Gwen, looking fabulous in an off-white dress with black trim, presided over the gourmet soiree following a festive cocktail reception/silent auction sponsored by Casamigos Tequila and American Harvest Vodka. Gwen, best known for her national weekly syndicated radio show heard locally on KFWB News Talk 980 and on L.A.’s KTLA Channel 5 morning show, introduced the chefs as they made their way to the stage.

Participating chefs included Host Chef, Brian Doherty, Executive Chef at Fairmont Newport Beach, who was later presented ALF’s “Culinary Visionary Award” (presented to Gwen last year), Casey Overton (The Loft at Montage Laguna Beach), Cody Storts (Nieuport 17), Seakyeong Kim (Charlie Palmer at Bloomgindale’s, South Coast Plaza), Vincent Lesage and Rachel Haggstrom and pastry chef Brooke Martin (Balboa Bay Resort), Marcel St. Pierre (Steakhouse 55, Disneyland Hotel), Shaun Gethin (Bijou French Bistro, La Jolla), Justin Miller (Pizzeria Ortica), Joshua Severson (Selanne Steak Tavern), John Ledbetter (personal chef for any occasion), and Aaron Anderson (Harlow’s).

I was seated at the Bijou French Bistro table, which was hosted by sponsor Wells Fargo and the Hamiltons. Chef Gethin did not disappoint! The five-course menu featured a yummy Oeufs Mayonnaise, Butter-Poached Lobster with roasted corn, the best Coq Au Van I’ve ever tasted (!), and a dessert for the record books – a salted carmel pot de creme with pillows of meringue on top accompanied by two buttery shortbread cookies (see photo). It was sensational!

Dr. Bruce Runyon, Director of Hepatology, UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica, gave a glowing introduction of the evening’s “Healthcare Visionary,” Dr. John Hoefs, Professor Emeritus of Medicine, UC Irvine’s School of Medicine’s Liver Specialty Center. Dr. Hoefs extolled research. “It has given us the liver transplant and the treatments that cure Hepatitis C and the suppression of Hepatitis B,” he said. “The research of today becomes the superior clinical care of tomorrow.” One of Dr. Hoef’s patients, Barbara Payne, was the gala’s “Liver Champion.” Payne, who received one of the first liver transplants in 1987 and is a survivor today, lauded ALF for their support throughout.

Auctioneer Joel Burlingame officiated over a live auction packed with fabulous dinner offerings. Michael Cho grabbed two of the auction items – a dinner for four at Bijou and a five-course dinner with wine pairings at Charlie Palmer, while Wayne Gross of Greenberg Gross LLP in Costa Mesa won dinner for 8 at Teemu Salanne’s Selanne Steak Tavern in Laguna Beach. It was announced that Teemu would attend and that the Anaheim Duck’s Stanley Cup trophy from winning the NHL championship in 2006 would be there as well. As a matter of fact, the trophy was at the Selanne Steak Tavern table that night. See Gross grinning from ear to ear beside it!

All in all, it was a great night for a great cause. Kudos to ALF for launching a one-of-a-kind gourmet food experience that the nonprofit has copied around the country to raise funds for the charity and its efforts to treat and cure liver disease.

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