EXTREME CUISINE

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Iron Chef Bobby Flay (left) fires it up with Roberto Del Grande at The American Food and Wine Fest. Photo courtesy of Francolin Consulting Services

There is a cornucopia of fabulous food fares that are delightfully delicious and then there is the World Series of celebrity food events-Wolfgang Puck’s American Wine and Food Festival. More than 2,500 ravenous revelers flocked to the banging back lot of Universal Studios. For serious food fans, this is paradise, turning otherwise normal adults into something akin to giddy toddlers on their first visit to Disneyland. But instead of meeting Mickey-it’s Bradley (Ogden). Chef Ogden of the famed Larkspur Inn was right up front with a delectable warm up. Camp Ogden was serving grilled rabbit done to perfection, served with peppers, proscuitto and topped with a delicate quail’s egg.

For dessert, there was a creative concoction of hot chocolate cake filled with warm butterscotch and topped with Guinness cotton candy. “That is the best thing I’ve ever tasted,” said one sampler.

Sadly, Ogden told us he had to scrap his plans to takeover the old Alice’s Restaurant locale on the Malibu Pier. “We really wanted to, but it was just too difficult.”

Pilgrims of the palate made their way up the twisting cobble stone streets of this heavenly hajj, munching every step of the way. At the summit of the mouth-watering Mecca they fawned over two of America’s greatest gourmet gurus-Iron Chefs Mario Batali and Bobby Flay.

By 9 p.m., Flay was serving up his last Yucatan chicken taco. “I guess that is it,” he said. “We’re out of food.”

Surrounded by a colorful display of seasonal October gourds, Mario’s place was set up like a traditional Italian meat market with strings of salami and sausages hanging from above. “This is incredible,” said the master, serving up a smoked piece of pigs’ shoulder paired with a tangy Italian cheese. “What do you think?” Mmmm Bellisima!

While Batali posed for photos and signed autographs, host Puck was busy making the rounds for his annual Meals on Wheels benefit. How does if feel after 23 years? With true Puck optimism he replied, “With us everything’s always bigger and better.”

Partner Barbara Lazaroff, busy chatting with New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme, was pushing pralines. “Try one of these,” she said, handing me a warm gooey morsel. “Aren’t they wonderful?”

Ironically, her beloved Granita restaurant in Malibu would be serving its last meal that very night. “I am sad to see it go,” she said. “I laid a lot of that tile work and put down the bar tops with my own two hands. That project was the most fun and the most heartache.” But good news came from Chef Paul. “We did really well in New Orleans,” he was happy to report. “We re-open next week.”

At 11 p.m., Madison Park NYC chef Kenny Heffernan was getting exotic. “Octopus, borscht,” he beckoned, holding out a cup of purple liquid, “What about you, look at those smiles.” Hmmm, definitely an acquired taste. His heirloom tomato salad with truffled goat cheese, however, was one premier platter.

From the Texas Kobe beef tri tip with grilled pannela cheese and raisin chipotle served in banana leaf to sherry yards sweet nothings, the evening was a tasty triumph. The gourmet gathering of 55 chefs and 60 wineries helped raised $1.1 million for Meals on Wheels.