On May 9, about 300 supporters of UCSB Arts & Lectures (A&L) enjoyed a swanky affair featuring food personality, author, and raconteur Anthony Bourdain on the scenic grounds of the S.B Historical Museum. The event’s theme was celebrating Santa Barbara, but its purpose was raising funds for A&L programming and educational outreach programs. With tickets starting at $1,000 and lots of pricey sponsorships, the event enabled A&L to recover from the hole caused by the twin disasters, which impacted both donations and ticket sales, and to set aside funding for educational outreach programs.
The evening began in the lower courtyard with scrumptious hors d’oeuvres by Les Marchands chef Weston Richards, Loquita executive chef Peter Lee, and Michael’s Catering chef Michael Hutchings, with the latter preparing succulent sauteed abalone. Guests then were seated in the main courtyard, where Miller McCune Executive Director Celesta M. Billeci welcomed them and thanked lead sponsors Lynda Weinman, Bruce Heavin, and Sara Miller McCune. Sherry Villanueva, the visionary behind the event, explained how local food and wine purveyors came together to showcase what is special about Santa Barbara and show how the food and wine scene here matches the arts and culture that A&L brings to us. Guests dined on slow-cooked California lamb ribs or roasted West Coast sea bass prepared by The Lark Executive Chef Jason Paluska. More than 25 local food and beverage purveyors were featured in the evening.
In a short video, Billeci explained how a critical component of A&L is providing educational outreach opportunities. She related how the need for this is greater now than ever because university and K-12 school budgets have been significantly decreased, resulting in program cuts for the arts. Funds raised during the ask will go to A&L’s educational outreach programs.
The auction, led by Dan Burnham and Eric Sonquist, featured tantalizing private dinners by some of the area’s top chefs: Jason Paluska of The Lark, Justin West of Wildwood Kitchen, Johan Denizot of Belmond El Encanto, Gary Singh of BiBi Ji (which got the highest bid, $24,000), and Greg Murphy of Bouchon. Craig McCaw added an impromptu offering at Oliver’s.
Bourdain, best known for his book, Kitchen Confidential, and his Emmy Award-winning television show Parts Unknown, enlightened and entertained the guests with an unfiltered outpouring of “painfully acquired nuggets of wisdom” that he maintained “will allow you to reach your finest you.” First up was “follow your dream, unless you suck.” He quickly cautioned, however, not to open a restaurant. Show up on time, he advised, because lack of punctuality shows so much about character. Embrace curiosity. Being generally interested in what goes on outside one’s own bubble is a major asset. Be gracious, especially when you travel. He opined that people open up to him because he asks simple questions about their lives and more importantly, because he eats whatever is offered to him. Food may represent an ethnicity, a region, or a country, and asking for a spinach salad instead of the local fare is going to end the conversation. In business, he lives by the “No Asshole Rule,” by which no matter how good the offer is, he always asks, do I want to do business with this person? A lively Q&A followed, and then a more intimate reception for VIP guests.
UCSB Arts & Lectures annually presents more than 100 events, including concerts, dance performances, talks by authors, and film series at UCSB and Santa Barbara-area venues. Ticket sales and institutional support cover less than half its costs, necessitating major fundraising. Its extensive outreach program serves K-12 students, college students and the general public. This season included educational opportunities with former Vice President Joe Biden, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, novelist Zadie Smith, comic Mike Birbiglia, public radio producer Ira Glass, astronaut Terry Virts, Grammy Award-winning La Santa Cecilia, Spain’s Compañia Nacional de Danza, and many more.
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David Bazemore Photography