Turns out New York Listening Ace Hillary Clinton breezed into town unnoticed late last month to down celebrity-chef nosh at a San Francisco Art Institute campaign fund-raiser. The sometime first lady air-kissed her Bay Area gal pals Susie Tompkins, Institute President Ella King Torrey, and Alice Waters, and generally charmed the cash off around 50 of San Francisco's effete elite.
"It was not a stodgy crowd, very friendly, the weather held, and there was music, but I don't remember what the music was," explains Chez Panisse chef Gilbert Pilgram, who prepared a feast of organic California cuisine for the assembled.
We don't know what the music was either. But we can bet it wasn't Roberta Flack's smash hit "Where Is the Love?" There was enough love at this June 21 Art Institute schmoozefest to keep select S.F. liberals glowing for weeks.
"The Clintons are good friends of Susie Tompkins, who in turn is a good friend of Alice's," explains Pilgram.
Old campaign-cash-hand Tompkins -- who loves the Clintons so much she's fielded FBI calls in connection with her fund-raising efforts -- organized the fete.
Esquire regular Annie Leibowitz was on hand to shoot portraits of every scion willing to cough up a rumored $10,000 to help Hillary's New York adventure, before hosting a similar fund-raiser at her fabulous apartment in New York.
And Waters, well, her staff spread around so much organically grown love that fatness and happiness were pretty much the only things on anyone's mind.
"Have you been to the Art Institute? It's a very beautiful setting. We tried to create a market feel," Pilgram says. "We set up four or five stations. Had Mediterranean-style dishes, country-style dishes. Angelo, a forger -- metal, not counterfeit money -- made some delicious wild fennel patties. We did some fried olives, some arancini, which means 'orange' in Italian. You make little balls of rice that you bread and deep fry. They look like a little orange, and they're stuffed with fontina cheese."
One thing that got this scribe wondering, though: With all this love going on, why wasn't any of it spread around? Why was the event kept such a big secret? This kind of event would ordinarily be on the evening news. But nooo. This soiree was strictly hush-hush, and even the local media weren't let in on it.
Hillary's campaign wouldn't return messages in which we asked for details. The Art Institute's flack wasn't terribly helpful when we called either, spinning the event as part of a love-love relationship between Leibowitz and her alma mater.
Flack: "She's been a trustee six or seven months. But she's been very deeply involved with the Art Institute for five years."
Mmm-hmmm. So she gives you money?
"No ... but she's come and participated in the 125th anniversary celebration in 1996, and agreed to receive an honorary doctorate."
Before we got more pissy than we already felt, we paused to think a moment. Perhaps Hillary's more comfortable, more at ease, when she's able to raise money among her West Coast friends in private. Maybe scrumptious Alice Waters food and $10K photo-portraits go down easier sans camera lights and notepads.
Hillary, for one, seemed very cheerful and relaxed without her media face on, according to the much more helpful Pilgram. It was as if a little privacy, 50 rich friends, and plate after plate of melt-in-your-mouth California cuisine were enough to drive away campaign-trail stress, Travel Office investigator scoldings, or intern trysts.
Hillary loved the food enough to take home a doggie bag, Pilgram says, filled with -- you guessed it -- Golden State cherries!