When I first got wind of the Celebrate Life with HOPE event, a gigantic block party on Paramount’s New York backlot for children who have (or who have beaten) cancer or life-threatening blood diseases, I was certain I had misunderstood something. The organizer, Dr. Ernest Katz at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, was rounding up folks like myself to help find restaurants willing to host a food booth or contribute a few ice cream cones to the carnival-like event, complete with clowns, face-painting, moonwalks, Star Wars characters and celebrity signings (and sightings). I assumed that this huge, kid-focused party for more than 1,600 was a fund-raiser, but it turned out to be nothing of the kind. Not that fund-raisers are a bad thing (quite the opposite, of course), but for the first time I realized how rarely the people we fund-raise for — like these cancer patients from lower-income L.A. families — actually get to participate in the partying and eating like the donors do.
And these kids have much to celebrate. As Dr. Katz told me, when Children’s Hospital started Celebrate Life with HOPE years ago, the odds of surviving childhood cancer were slim, so unfortunately all they needed was a couple of ice cream cakes, a few balloons and the coffee-break room in the hospital. Now, with childhood cancer survival rates skyrocketing, they need much more space… and a lot more food donations.
There was some great eating at the event (on June 7th — we’re a bit slow updating you on this one!). Notable were Drago’s popular pasta table/sushi stand (the site of many scared-turned-delighted screams from kids who had never tasted sushi and were daring their friends to try it), the Bennett’s Ice Cream cart (from Scott Bennett’s fantastic stand at the L.A. Farmers Market), fried-to-order mini doughnuts from The Fry Girl, and adorably addictive two-bite meatball subs from Savore, a catering biz from former Spago chef Erez Levy. (Normally, L.A.’s French chef organization, Club Culinaire, is a big presence here, but this year the Celebrate Life event fell on the same date as its annual Picnic des Chefs fund-raiser.)
This year, healthy eating was also on the agenda. Garden School Foundation executive director Nat Zappia brought veggies, and a few kids, from the 24th Street School’s edible schoolyard. RootDownLA, a new youth healthy-eats organization that works with McGrath Family Farms and other area farms, as well as caterer/Garden School culinary teacher Jennie Cook, has already signed up to help spread the word at next summer’s event that healthy eating doesn’t have to mean carrot sticks and bottled ranch dressing.
The biggest surprise of the day was the unexpectedly entertaining performance by Jessica Simpson — I hate to admit it, but her new country-style tunes were actually pretty good, and she certainly looks the part with all that big blonde hair.
Dare we hope that next June, Jessica will set up a booth at Celebrate Life with HOPE and serve up her very own Chicken of the Sea recipe?
— Jenn Garbee