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Katherine Spangle gets the dish from celeb chef Wolfgang Puck at California Spirit XXIII to benefit the America Cancer Society. Photo by Lee Salem Photography

SHOWING THE SPIRIT

The tree-lined grounds of the Ken Roberts Ranch in Mandeville Canyon couldn’t be a better place to enjoy a tasty spread personally prepared by the city’s best celebrity chefs.

It seems like only yesterday when an up-and-coming Austrian foodie named Wolfgang Puck and his then wife Barbara Lazaroff decided to put on a glorious graze-a-thon to benefit the American Cancer Society. Since that time, Cal Spirit has tickled our taste buds, lightened our wallets and helped raise a whopping $11.5 million for ACS.

Puck had all of his top guns on deck for the tasty affair, one from each of his famed eateries. Once again, the gourmet gurus did not disappoint. With its station dressed in cheery lemon and lime gingham and puffy arrangements of colorful allium and delphinium, Vert’s stylish set up couldn’t have looked more appealing. Chef Matt Bencivenga presided over a fully loaded seafood spread that seemed as high as an elephant’s eye. His raw bar was jam packed with succulent lobster, crab, shrimp and oysters, all surrounded by stalks of crisp celery and tangy hot sauce on ice. He also made a dynamite croque madame fresh off the grill, dripping with creamy bĂ©arnaise sauce and topped by a dainty quail egg.

Just down the way, Spago’s Lee Hefner brought back a Cal Spirit favorite, sensational soft shell crab sandwiches with all the fixings. “We stick with this menu because we’re good at it,” Hefner said while surveying the scene. “I grew up crabbing in New Jersey. You get a little crab, add all your fresh, seasonal ingredients, a little corn and there’s no better way to celebrate summer.”

Ari Rosenson from Cut shared the secret to his perfectly prepared slabs. “For me, there’s nothing like a dry age New York steak. Just don’t dry it out,” he added. “That’s the biggest mistake people make.”

And so it went, with guests eating their way across the ranch while scoring kitchen tips from the guys at Chinois as well as non-Puck outposts like Sushi Roku and Table 8.

In between bites, we plunked down bids on auction items like trips to the Eternal City and a getaway to the Aloha state.

This year’s Cal Spirit honorees included Emmy award winner Bradley Whitford of “The West Wing” and “Studio 60” fame as well as community advocate Nicole Avant, philanthropy development consultant Marcos Barron and philanthropists Pras Michael and Max Shorr.

Proceeds support the ACS and its lifesaving research, education, prevention and patient services programs. “We deeply appreciate the leadership and dedication of the honorees and our volunteers,” said the California division’s David Veneziano. “The dollars raised at California Spirit are saving lives.”

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