Under the White Tents: Hamptons Charity Party Circuit

The James Beard Foundation's JBF Chefs & Champagne was held under a white tent at Wolffer Estate.Those towering, decorative white tents are up all over the Hamptons signaling major partying is underway—all in the name of a good cause. Every weekend there are at least two charity events and sometimes it’s difficult to decide where to go. Will it be a museum fundraiser: the Parrish Art Museum or Watermill Center? A spectacular garden property: Madoo or the LongHouse Reserve? Or one of the many benefits which support medical research: The Sam Waxman Cancer benefit or the Alzheimer’s Association Rita Hayworth Gala?

On July 23rd two outstanding events were scheduled on the same night. The LongHouse Reserve’s Jubilee Summer Benefit, “Serious Moonlight”–one of the Hamptons most enchanting events held in East Hampton on the LongHouse’s 16-acre grounds–conflicted with James Beard Foundation’s Chefs & Champagne. I had accepted Chefs & Champagne when I heard that the exclusive Champagne sponsor was to be Barons de Rothschild, a bubbly I had first tasted when it was a tiny, private, family brand served to me while visiting Chateaux Lafite in Bordeaux. The venerable Lafite Rothschild family is now exporting a Champagne, which is made from only the grapes grown in Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards in the Côte des Blancs and Montagne de Reims.

The chefs of the JBF Chefs & Champagne.Under the white big tent at Wölffer Estate on a very hot evening, the benefit kicked off. The crowd, which eventually swelled to 1,000 guests, was full of James Beard Award winners, both chefs and writers. I immediately met the guest of honor, John Besh, a multiple James Beard Award–winning chef, restaurateur, and author of four books, among them My New Orleans.  

My good friends and two-time James Beard award winning cookbook authors, Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg (The Flavor Bible) took a break from their deadline days for an 11th book (Kitchen Creativity) to attend the event. Together we sipped the lovely Rosé Multi-Vintage during the VIP hour. With strawberry, raspberry, rose petal and citrus notes, the salmon-pink hued Rosé was exceptional. Frédéric Mairesse, the managing director of Champagne Barons de Rothschild, joined us and explained that the high proportion of Chardonnay (85%) in the Rosé’s makes it “refined and harmonious yet vivacious and lively at the same time.”

Barons de Rothschild champagne.After the VIP hour ended, the Blanc de Blancs and Brut Multi-Vintage (both luxurious cuvees at $125 and $100 a bottle respectively) were served throughout the rest of the party.  The Blanc de Blancs was also a marvel of balance and freshness, made from 100% Chardonnay from Avize, Cramant, and Mesnil-Sur-Oger. It paired perfectly with the sashimi and crudo. Two notable creations were chef Damien O’Donnell’s (Harbor Bistro, East Hampton) Montauk fluke crudo with tomatillo relish and avocado crema and chef Tim Cushman’s (O Ya, Boston and NYC) kanpachi sashimi with Vietnamese mignonette and Thai basil.

Of course, for those who wanted to move on to still wine Wölffer had a special offering to showcase. We tasted the just released Finca Rosé that Wölffer makes from their property in Mendoza, Argentina. Winemaker Roman Roth poured me a taste of his new wine made from both red and white grapes, among them Malbec and Torrontes. He achieved the lightest soft pink hue in this dry, crisp rosé. Roth was clearly enthused about his new role of making wine on two continents.

After refilling the flute this time with the Brut Multi-vintage (distinctive aromas of pear, almonds and white flowers), I decided to focus on eating. Chef Cédric Vongerichten (Perry St, NYC)–yes, Jean-Georges’ son—presented a chilled Peekytoe crab with sesame emulsion, avocado, and basil. Matt Lambert (The Musket Room, NYC, one of the city’s true hidden gems) created an exotic dish of yama musubi canapés with seared tuna and wasabi. And Mexican Julian Medina (Toloache, NYC), a chef who I’ve known and admired for years, made tasty tacos of duck carnitas with charred habanero with tamarind salsa.

With 40 chefs participating, there were too many stand-out dishes to mention them all. But one last shout-out goes to James Beard wining chefs Paul Kahan and Perry Hendrix (Avec, Chicago) for their delicious grilled octopus with sumac, tangerine butter, and Trufflebert Farm hazelnuts.

Meanwhile, amidst all the drinking and eating, the guests were alerted to come towards the stage where Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation sporting her signature smart hat, introduced the 40 chefs. Each paraded up to the podium and got a well-deserved embrace. The chefs then walk out of the tent to the lawn outside to have the traditional group photo taken and afterwards joined the after-party celebration, held in an adjoining smaller tent. We all feasted for another good hour. To my delight the Rosé Multi-Vintage was brought out again for this second party. And you wonder why I love this event?

Shoppers under the tent at Super Saturday.Hamptons’ shopping-for-charity events

Super Saturday, the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance’s (OCRFA), went on under a big white tent, and this year took in nearly $3.5 million. The “world’s most famous design charity garage sale,” as it is dubbed, is curated by some big names, like Rachel Zoe, put together her “Designers from A–Zoe” booth featuring her favorite pieces. With raffles, an auction of art pieces by Jeremy Penn (which all sold), the charity holds one of the exciting people watching events, this year with Kelly Ripa, Christy Turlington, June Ambroise, Donna Karan and Mayor Rudy and Judith Guiliani all “shopping-until-they’re-dropping” along with the throngs on the hot day in end July.

The Real Housewives of New York at Jill Zarin's annual luncheon to benefit St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital.On a beastly hot day, the cast of Housewives of New York– Kelly Bensimon, Ramona Singer, Kristan Taekman, Cindy Barshop— were back again for the fourth annual luncheon held at Jill and Bobby Zarin’s Southampton waterfront home. Another benefit (for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital) with a shopping focus, this year the carnival held lots of curiosities. I discovered the Üllo wine purifier which is a wine gadget to remove sulfites from wine. You could join the JCB wine club and host wine tasting parties at your home. And you could be first to try the amazing Ubons “PitMaster’s Hot & Spicy” Bloody Mary mix, developed by PitMaster Garry Roark in Yazoo City, MS. It was too hot to drink Bloody Marys with the sponsoring Blue Ice Vodka so I opted for an Ubons Virgin Mary on the rocks.

The curiosities went on with stations for every female need: a nail bar, braid bar, brow bar and wellness bar, which featured Super Detox Me restart cleanse. The women were all decked out with sexy sun dresses and 6 inch platform wedges and Cynthia Bailey Eye Wear and all sorts of vintage sunglasses. We sipped Martha Clara rosé and Josh Cellars Sauvignon Blanc and a fabulous sparkling wine from Studio Wines Boisset from the ubiquitous Jean-Charles Boisset of Burgundy and umpteen California properties. A new activity was offered this year: rides around Shinnecock Bay in an Iguana Yachts watercraft.

Gwyneth Paltrow at the Paddle and Pink PartyProbably the summer’s most glamorous and entertaining event, The Paddle and Pink Party benefitting Breast Cancer Research Foundation, was held under a huge tent at Mecox Bay in Bridgehampton. Five hundred guests showed up for this big ticket benefit ($1500) with its big celebrity power. Gwyneth Paltrow hosted along with Tracy Anderson and Gabrielle Reece as speakers. The big wave surfer Laird Hamilton provided more than enough testosterone eye candy. The evening culminated in an electrifying performance by 1970’s band, Chic, with the extraordinary Nile Rodgers, who got the crowd rocking into a frenzy to “Le Freak, C’est Chic.”

To my delight the Champagne sponsor was again Barons de Rothschild who offered its Rosé Multi-Vintage with its fragrances of rose, strawberry and raspberry. This being a Pink Party, women naturally dressed to theme in an array of pink shades and it looked like a stage set with the women’s outfits matching their luminescent pink flutes of champagne.

One side of the tent held a long wall of custom surf and paddle boards, each designed by an artist or designer, among them Tory Burch, Michael Dweck, Nicole Miller, Lisa Perry and Serena & Lily. The event actually started in the morning with race with 200 paddlers at Haven’s Beach led by Tracy Anderson, Laird Hamilton and Gabby Reece. The auction of the paddle boards and ticket sales brought in 1.75 million.

Nacho Figueras at the Hampton Piaget Polo Cup.On a sunny Sunday afternoon the Fifth Hampton Piaget Polo Cup, benefitting the Robin Hood, kicked off at the Equuleus Polo Club in Water Mill. The scene was picture perfect with a white tent festooned with flags sitting on one side of the green, grassy massive polo field along. Side tents had displays with watches and jewels. But what really made for a picture perfect afternoon was the sight of heartthrob and polo luminary Nacho Figueras.

With support from Polo Ralph Lauren Foundation, the match pitted Team Credit Suisse against Team Bugatti. The Piaget Polo Cup was billed as an “afternoon for families” and had a pony riding ring and a truck dispensing kid-size polo mallets and balls during the half-time, stomping-of-the-divots ritual. 

The Fifth Hamptons Piaget Polo CupSeats were set up along the polo field and guests, some with fancy hats, sat and watched the polo. I mention this because over years of Mercedes Bridgehampton Polo, guests often continued to drink and party under the tent during the match and often were unaware that polo was being played on the field.

Team Bugatti took home the Piaget Cup. I suppose the decks with stacked with Nacho Figueras as well as the brothers Cristian (Magoo) Laprida and Inaki Laprida playing for Bugatti in this 18-goal match, the highest level played in Long Island.  At the match’s conclusion, a trailer pulled up with an instant stage for the ceremony to award the Cup along with most valuable player award—Nacho Figueras—and most valuable polo pony, which was owned by Donna Karan.

At the elaborate lunch that followed guests dug into an enormous pan of paella, Argentinean grill and platters whole fish. During the charity’s auction which took place during the luncheon, the auctioneer commented that if a certain lot was bid up high enough, Nachos would take off his shirt. Did he? You had to be there to know. The event raised $780 thousand to fight poverty.

Christie Brinkley at the Trunks of Love benefitSometimes Hampton weekends have themes and the second weekend of August turns out to be the wildlife charity weekend.  On Friday the benefit, Trunks of Love: A Night of Elephants & Champagne, took place in the beautiful garden and back lawn of The Baker House in East Hampton.  The crowd sipped Louis Roederer Champagne and watched a short film on the plight of Asian elephants. Christie Brinkley mingled with the guests and stayed throughout the evening. She was honored for her achievements in championing the cause of elephants. The night raised money for the Asian Elephant Veterinary Care Program.

The Trunks of Love benefit raised money for the Asian Elephant Veterinary Care program.Brinkley gave an impassioned speech on her commitment to elephants. She had first witnessed elephants while on a photo shoot in Kenya for Sports Illustrated and began studying their matriarchal society. She went back to Africa many times most recently with her model daughter, Sailor Brinkley-Cook, to support The First Lady of Kenya's "Hands Off Our Elephant" Campaign and Anti- Elephant and Rhino Poaching Campaigns of South Africa. She told a story of looking into the eyes of an elephant protecting her baby and feeling a kinship because she too was a mother and protecting her baby, Sailor.

Richard Lair, who has been working with elephants in captivity for 40 years, was also honored for his commitment. “Elephants are extremely intelligent animals and should not be kept in captivity,” Lair said. “15,000 elephants held in captivity in Asia and another thousand in Europe and the U.S.”

Beth Ostrosky Stern at the Get Wild benefit at Channing Daughters Winery.Held in the grassy Sculpture Garden at the Channing Daughters winery, “Get Wild,” benefitting the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons, drew an interesting crowd from Beth Ostrosky Stern to Guardian Angel, Curtis Sliwa.  Circulating through the cocktail party were handlers with birds of prey and owls for guests be photographed alongside the birds.

I spoke with Evelyn Alexander at this 10th annual summer benefit for her rescue center. She founded the organization in 1997 after she has witnessed a woodchuck getting hit by a car. She tried to find a wild life rehabilitation center to take the wounded woodchuck and at the time one didn’t exist. Now she runs a fully staffed wild life hospital with 14 people in summer and 9 in winter who care for deer, song birds, birds of prey, water fowl, ducks and geese. There’s no other wild life hospital in Long Island.

The Surfrider Foundation's charity auction included Michael Dweck's photography book, The End.Photo from michael dweck's book

The Surfrider Foundation’s Two Coasts: One Ocean, which funds regional clean water and coastal preservation programs, was held in a secret location only disclosed to guests the day before the benefit. A white tent was set up along the water at end of Navy Road inside the Edward Vincent Ecker Park in Montauk. Guests enjoyed a cocktail party with Finlandia Vodka and Don Q drinks lasting till sunset and then a lucky hundred folks sat down to enjoy a locally sourced dinner under the tent. The charity auction included the 10th anniversary art edition of Michael Dweck’s critically acclaimed photography book, The End: Montauk, N.Y., a limited edition with 260 photographs selling for $3,000.  Full disclosure: I was scheduled to attend what I expect was a very exciting charity party in a remote Montauk location however my driver/ escort protested the long trek from Southampton to Montauk. I hope to make it next year and also to find a more flexible driver/escort. Finding willing designated drivers is one of the most pressing problems party goers face in the Hamptons.


The Peaceman Foundation's Adam and Eve-themed party at Sir Ivan Wilzig's Gothic castle.The summer would not be complete without a party from the Hamptons’ “Great Gatsby,” Sir Ivan Wilzig, who resides in a Gothic castle in Water Mill. His blow-out events are benefits for The Peaceman Foundation, his private charity to battle hatred and violence—especially the bullying of LGBT youth. Everyone loves seeing the spectacle at the castle, always decorated to the nines for Sir Ivan’s over-the-top events, with 500 plus guests roaming the vast property with its ponds and fountains. There’s a sculpture in one of the pond-shaped pools taken from a mold of his ex-girlfriend’s body.

I received the invitation to celebrate the 60th birthday of Sir Ivan with these costuming instructions: This summer party’s encouraged dress code is Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Come dressed wearing: Fig Leaves or Less (Body Painting, Snakes, Exotic Animals & Birds, Flowers, Fruit and other things you might find in a Tropical Paradise). Undress to impress! 

Guests took “undress to impress” seriously and many came Garden-of-Eden-naked with flowers and fig leaves covering their private parts. The costumes left little to the imagination and the crowd was a charming vision. Unlike Sir Ivan, most of the guests were not turning 60. Many had yet to see their 30th birthday so the Garden of Eden lived up to its innocent name. Many Eves brought apples to offer the Adams. In a twist of interpretations my escort for the party decided on a Tarzan costume and instead of Eve was searching for Jane.

The castle, lit up with neon green lights to create an otherworldly lost-in-the-green-moss mood, was decorated in the haute Garden of Eden style strewn with flowers and stuffed animal snakes (mercifully, not real ones) slithering along the lawns. The party’s amenities also were apple themed with Stoli Gala Apple Vodka and apple pie.

Fine jewelry on display at the Swarovski Soiree.The Swarovski Soiree benefitted the National YoungArts Foundation.Sometimes charity benefits have multiple themes. One August evening at a party dubbed the Swarovski Soirée, the evening combined fine jewelry, a magazine launch and a charity to benefit the National Young Arts Foundation, supporting teenage artists in fields from performing arts to design.  Held at the arrestingly beautiful property of Lisa and James Cohen, which overlooks Georgica Beach and has wild flower garden running down to the dunes, the event celebrated the second issue of Galerie Magazine. The Cohens, founders of Hudson News, launched this quarterly, which they describe as a People magazine for artists. The rosé flowed, delicious hors d’oeuvres came around and people shopped for one of a kind baubles with proceeds going to Young Arts.  A talented violinist, a graduate of program, played on this charmed night.

Drinks at Zigmund'sA final note: After all the charity events finish there’s a new place to go late nights in the Hamptons–one that’s not a nightclub for twenty-somethings. Zigmund’s, a bar with a late night menu, was opened end of July by owners of Almond in Bridgehampton, Eric Lemonides and Jason Weiner.  Zigmund’s will be one of the Hamptons’ few late night hang outs spots for adults.

In Zigmund’s ambitious cocktail program herbs and flowers grown right on the property are used in the creative cocktails. I tested out a few and especially recommend The Greek Lemonade (Bulldog gin, Ouzo, lemon, lime cordial, cucumber, fresh dill). I also tried a drink from Shrub Bar menu where one selects one out of six fresh fruit and herb shrubs and asks for a shot of one’s preferred booze.  And if the bene’s were skimpy on the food, there’s great homemade spanakopita, the lamb chops or the fried fish and fries with dill and lemon. Zigmund’s stays rocking till the wee hours. The night I was there restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow and his wife Linda were testing out the menu.