Under the White Tents: A Wrap-Up of Summer Chairty Events in the Hamptons

During July and August all over the Hamptons rising from fields, lawns and beachfront properties, glistening white tents made of sailcloth, their canopies artfully draped over high frames soaring to multiple peaks, appear like East End’s greatest thematic sculpture show. As you drive along the hedgerow-laden roads, you spot the majestic tents and envision that each will be the scene of a forthcoming charity or cultural event.

I just closed out another summer season with its whirl of parties from the Champagne Ruinart VIP kick-off for Art Southampton under the largest high-top of them all to Bridgehampton Polo, which this year sported a more intimate graceful tent, and can report that a half-dozen years after the ‘08 recession the Champagne is finally back.

Dan’s Taste of Summer

Dan’s Taste of Summer: Grillhampton and Taste of Two Forks
From the many foodie events to the season’s end oenophile bash (Harvest East End) all for good causes, no other place can pull off these parties like the Hamptonites. Two thousand people attended the double whammy foodie weekend, now called Dan’s Taste of Summer, with Grillhampton on Friday night and Taste of Two Forks on Saturday night, both sponsored by Dan Rattiner of Dan’s Papers (with a portion of the proceeds benefiting All for the East End group).

Cocktails with Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Sailor Jerry Rum, Casamigos Tequila and Hendrick’s Gin were flowing at Grillhampton, which again this year surprisingly did not offer a single Long Island Merlot or Cabernet Franc to pair with all the juicy beef from the legendary Pat LaFrieda of LaFrieda Meats. Since spirits can go straight to my head, I fortunately found a table serving aromatic Canti Prosecco, which has notes of peach and pear and persistent effervescence. Grillhamptons stages a battle between Hamptons and NYC chefs and a group of celeb judges decide whether the lamb chops beat out the Dominican ribs. It was a riveting carnivore’s carnival energized by the music of The Nancy Atlas Project.

On Saturday night the same tent at Sayre Park on Snakehollow Road got gussied from its rustic country-western look to a more festively lit interior for Taste of Two Forks, which featured forty Chefs from the North and South Fork as well as a dozen Long Island wine brands. Now the tasty bites went from carnivore to pescatarian fare and I was in my element as hopscotched pairing a Pinot Blanc from Lieb Cellars with Fresno’s heirloom tomato soup with a corn and lobster salsa; an eye-opening smoked striped bass with crème fraiche from The Bell & Anchor with Macari Sauvignon Blanc; and ceviche of local fluke and ruby red shrimp, jalapeño and ginger from Navy Beach with One Woman’s Gruner Veltliner. Jamesport brought out their provocatively named red blend, Mélange de Trois, and the Rosé from their scallop-shell-labeled East End series.

James Beard Foundation’s Chefs & Champagne

Chefs & Champagne
Two weekends later the spectacular food offerings continued with James Beard Foundation’s Chefs & Champagne held under the big white tent at Wolffer Estate where 1,200 lucky guests secured tickets to the sold-out benefit. Champagne Taittinger with its delicate bubbles flowed all night long even into a festive after-party at an adjoining tent where the chefs finally joined in on the party. Champagne Taittinger, besides being one of the revered centuries-old brands, had a dramatic story in 2005 when the family sold to the brand to Starwood and then a year later, a committed family member, Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, struggled to reclaim his namesake Champagne. He succeeded to buy it back in 2006 with the help of Crédit Agricol in the Champagne region.

This year’s honored chef was Bobby Flay, who in his acceptance speech seemed truly humbled—rather uncharacteristic for him. Wearing a smart hat and lovely outfit, Susan Ungaro, the head of the foundation, delivered her usual impassioned thank-you to all of the sponsors and chefs who make all the James Beard chef scholarships possible. Unlike the Southeast Asian heat of the past several years, the evening was cool and pleasant and the Champagne Taittinger really elevated the mood of the highly social epicurean crowd.

Two newcomers to Manhattan’s endlessly incendiary dining scene were there. Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth, both of Top Chef and both previously of Miami’s celebrated Yardbird Southern Table & Bar, just opened Root & Bone in Alphabet City. They served a delectable blue crab waldorf with pecans and grapes wrapped in thin sheet of green apple. And Georgette Farkas, longtime in-house publicist for Daniel Boulud’s empire and now a restaurateur on her own right, opened the instant runaway hit Rotisserie Georgette in the east 60’s. Georgette graciously presented house-made charcuterie, a ballotine of quail stuffed with apricot and foie gras. She had planned to bring the rotisserie to serve some of her grilled specialties but cooking under the tent proved an obstacle.

The highlight dishes were almost too numerous to cover. Formerly the chef at The Standard Grill and now at the newly renovated The Regency Bar & Grill, Dan Silverman offered a stunning dish of grilled diver scallops with a salad of peaches and pluots. Executive chef at The Four Seasons Restaurant, the Thai born and raised Pecko Zantilaveevan, prepared an outstanding Thai dish, a shrimp-watermelon salad with lemongrass and bacon-popcorn.

But besides the food and bubbly offerings what I like most about Chefs & Champagne is that people mingle so fluidly under the white tent, which somehow has just the right feng shui. There was Julian Niccolini, owner of the Four Seasons, strutting around in his fashionable blue and white stripped suit with Bermuda length shorts along with his glamorous wife, Lisa, and daughter, Marusca. And of all things, my New York periodontist, Nick Toscano, once the White House dentist who treated Hillary Clinton, gave me tips on which small dishes to taste—i.e., the heavenly pork belly, which had been slow-cooked for 17 hours. And of course, Roman Roth, winemaker at Wolffer, overseeing the serving of magnums of his famous rosé, mingling along with his beautiful charming wife, Dushi. Like every year, the star guest was handsome part- Danish-part-French Remy Ros—the 12-year-old trilingual son of Yvon Ros, one of the James Beard organizers who had spent the day helping stuff the heavy goodie-bags.

Photo: Clint Spalding from Patrick McMullan Company

Super Saturday
Despite a tremendous setback, a theft of one trailer truck full of merchandize to be sold for charity, Super Saturday 17—dubbed the “world famous designer garage sale”—raised $3.5 million for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. Apparently thieves just hooked up a front car to the trailer and drove off with the precious designer goods (the lines of Haute Hippie, Magnificent Baby and Donney & Bourke among others), which were valued at over $100,000 according to a news report in the Southampton Press.

The charity was hosted by Kelly Ripa and Donna Karan, who along with the late Liz Tilberis, the Editor-in-Chief of Harper’s Bazaar, created Super Saturday in 1998. Women and men pay between $450 (regular ticket) and $850 (VIP preview ticket for early entrance) to buy designer goods that are up to 80% off. This magazine, Hamptons Cottages & Gardens had a booth and was selling designer rugs and pillows and assorted home accessories. It’s always amusing to see the fancy ladies leaving the tents hauling a dozen full bags of goodies. The friend with whom I attended spent over $1000 on kid’s clothes and dresses for his newly acquired family

Anthony Bourdain at Guild Hall
Strapping Anthony Bourdain was actually up and ready to face his audience at a reception over Nepresso coffee and delicious pastries on a Sunday morning at 10 a.m. He was to appear at 11 a.m. as the first guest chef in a series called “Stirring the Pot” at Guild Hall in East Hampton. Nepresso is the official sponsor of the three chef talks (Martha Stewart and Daniel Boulud, the other two) and had me picked up in Southampton to cover the event. I greatly appreciated the VIP service and the chance to hear the man behind the award winning Parts Unknown CNN show on Sunday nights.

Just the day before I had passed Bourdain, walking along with his good friend chef Eric Ripert at Cooper’s Beach in Southampton. It was an arresting sight, the two tall famous chefs looking quite fit. I had hoped that his friend Ripert would be interviewing him, but alas it was the more serious, long-time Times writer Florence Fabricant. Though Fabricant kept things lively by peppering him with questions, Ripert would have definitely amped the sex appeal, adding testosterone to the talk.

Bourdain regaled the packed audience with “war stories” about the CNN show. How the Congo was the least safe place to film with 29 militias who could show up at any moment. “All it takes is for our camera man to back up and bump into someone at the market, and suddenly they’re accusing us of being CIA. It’s really Heart of Darkness, horrible genocide there during the Belgian rule. And awful food—only pounded manioc and chicken spam. We had to kill our own chicken.”

He was questioned about the worse foods and spoke about being forced to consume tribal food from a communal dirty bowl. There was no choice because the chief was watching him eat it. “Swallowing this contaminated food was like getting into a hot tub just after Ron Jeremy just got out,” he said in his classic salty manner. Fabricant blushed.

The stories went on. When he was with the Maasai tribe in Tanzania, he had to suffocate a baby goat. “They live on raw meat and blood. They drink the blood, the Maasai. Yet there are incredibly healthy people. So much for vegetarianism.” The one place he doesn’t want to return is Russia. “I just can’t keep up with the drinking….17 vodka shots over dinner every night. I just can’t do it.”

Bourdain’s favorite places? “Not Scandinavia or Iceland, too calm. I like India, Vietnam. I like chaos and places that are smelly. Food smells. And hotels. I love hotels. Old Colonial hotels—the Metropole in Hanoi, Raffles in Phnon Penh. My choice of a place for death would be Chateau Marmont.”

Longhouse Reserve and Armory Show Party
Art shows for both charity and to support the art institutions abound. The LongHouse Reserve’s White Hot + Blue benefit took place on a balmy evening in the outdoor gardens. As you walked the paths of the arboretum to the art museum, an exhibit entitled Fowl Play, featuring bird and human hybrid sculptures, hung from the trees and from suspended wiring overhead. The gala was held on the Longhouse’s 16-acres of gardens and sculpture park in East Hampton and benefits textile designer Jack Lenor Larsen’s not-for-profit education programs Though I attended only the 6 p.m. cocktail, a dinner followed honoring artist Cindy Sherman and the guest list read like a who’s who in the arts, design and architecture.

Often I am invited to attend either the opening cocktail or late night party of these major arts events and there are quite a number. Art Southampton’s kick off Thursday night brought an enormous Manhattan crowd starting their weekend early to attend. All agreed that the show, which is the sister to Art Miami and featured 80 international galleries, was a big hit this year. The architecturally stunning Parrish Museum gave their annual fundraiser and I attended the after 10 o’clock post dinner event, which again brought out many on the arts circuit. And the East Hampton Antiques Show to benefit the Historical Society held a cocktail party on the grounds of Mulford Farm where East Hampton residents like Martha Stewart and Richard Meier casually strolled through display booths of the show.

One the most coveted invitations to an exclusive arts event is the Sunday afternoon benefit for New York’s Armory Show held at the spectacular Sag Harbor home of art collector Chiswell Langhorne. Designed by architect Annabell Selldorf, the residence has scores of windows looking out to the grounds of private gardens and woods. An artsy crowd sips Prosecco and socializes on the various levels of the property along the woods and around the pool. The afternoon’s activities include touring the house---which has Langhorne’s contemporary art collection displayed in even room, and watching performance art. This year because of the threat of rain, the video screens that were supposed to hang from trees in the woods were instead projected on a small screen on the patio.

Love Heals and Children’s Fund
The 18th annual Love Heals, which supports the Alison Gertz Foundation for AIDS education, threw its soiree at Wolffer Estate for the second year. Wolffer is certainly the loveliest venue at which to stage an elegant event. We dined outdoors overlooking the vineyards watching the sun set between the vines.

Dubbed “Let’s Misbehave 80’s Style,” the event featured the band, Jessie’s Girl. American Idol star Constantine Maroulis also performed and Nicky Hilton made her charmed appearance as did Eric Ripert, chef at Le Bernadin, and his beautiful wife, Sandra. This year the tickets were $250 versus last year’s $500, so the crowd seemed younger and wilder. Maybe it was the tequila that motivated everyone to dance 80’s style. Patron Tequila is the perennial sponsor of the event. They offered a cocktail that went down easy made with Patron Silver, Patron Citronge and pineapple juice.

Another worthy charity, the Children’s Health Fund, staged its “Sunset Cocktails on Mill Pond” fundraiser under a festive white tent. The event had star power with Julianne Moore as host and her beautiful “mini-me” daughter in tow. New York Senator Chuck Schumer gave an impassioned speech. With auction items like a trip to the Maldives on Emirates Airlines and a private jet flight to Miami, the organization raised over $140,000 that night.

Dan’s Harvest East End To the delight of the already packed VIP crowd on Saturday, August 23rd, Governor Andrew Cuomo made a surprise appearance at Harvest East End. He announced the winners of the New York Wine & Food Classic. Macari Vineyard & Winery, a 500 acre waterfront estate in Mattituck, was named “2014 Winery of the Year.” Alexandra and Joseph Macari Jr. joined the governor on stage. In a competition of 835 wines, Macari’s 2010 Cabernet Franc won “Best Red Wine” of the state as well. Cuomo spoke of how wine tourism has created thousands of jobs on the North Fork and broke news of a $300,000 campaign to promote the region’s wine and craft beverage industries.

Held for the second time at McCall Vineyards and Ranch in Cutchogue under a big white tent, Dan’s Harvest East End features some 40 Long Island wineries and 30 regional top chefs. This fifth installment of Harvest organized by Dan’s Papers and the Long Island Wine Council to benefit the Peconic Land Trust and the Long Island Farm Bureau was the most exciting by far.

Our Long Island region had another statewide winner. Sparkling Pointe 2005 Brut Selection won the best sparkling wine of NY in a field that also included entries from the wine regions of Hudson Valley, Finger Lakes, Niagara Escarpment and Lake Erie.

As every year I try to taste as many sips of wines as I can, pacing myself and consuming enough of the small plate delicacies in between. For the first hour I taste the lighter wines (whites, sparkling and roses) before moving to the stronger reds. I started off with the critically acclaimed Lieb Pinot Blanc sparkling which went perfectly with a delicate ceviche of scallop. Next I went for a sip of the award winning Sparkling Pointe along with The North Fork & Inn’s shrimp and corn chowder. The event seemed to feature all sorts of chowders, both Manhattan and New England styles, and also dishes made with sweet corn, since corn is at the height of its season.

From there I went on to the pinks, definitely a specialty of our region. Wolffer Estate 2013 Grandioso Rosé was named the best rosé of the region also at New York Wine & Food Classic. Winemaker Roman Roth was there pouring and told me that they made 17,000 cases of rosé and remarkable the winery is entirely sold out this summer. Every year I like to take away one big discovery and this year it was a lovely pale pink rosé from a small producer named Waters Crest Winery in Cutchogue. The owner and winemaker, James Waters, poured me his 2013 Dry Rosé, which he makes from grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Merlot) he acquired from local growers. At a table nearby was my discovery from previous Harvest, a beautifully balanced Burgundian-style Chardonnay from Sherwood House Vineyards.

When I finally moved on to the reds, I tasted an excellent Jamesport Cabernet Franc with succulent steak slices offered by Master Purveyors, supplier of prime beef to restaurants around the country. Cabernet Franc is becoming the region’s most awarded and promising variety and I went from table to table comparing Cabernet Francs from Shinn Estate, Bedell, Raphael, T’Jara and others. My last taste I saved for the state’s wining red. Beautiful Gabriella Macari was there pouring the 2010 Macari Cabernet Franc out of a crystal carafe. The crowd lined up for a taste and while waiting, animatedly exchanged tips on “must try” wines. There was a level of enthusiasm under the tent that I’ve rarely experienced. Governor Cuomo’s early appearance had created a celebratory mood and I could sense that the Manhattan/East End crowd was finally grasping that we live with a major wine region in our midst.

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