By Eric Rosen | September 26, 2013 | Lifestyle
Holy Trinity! Mega fundraisers Suzanne Goin, David Lentz, and Caroline Styne with Nikolas Zdrazil (IN RED) and his brother Corey, a kidney cancer survivor and beneficiary of L.A. Loves Alexâ€™s Lemonade.
FROM LEFT: Laura Dern with her children Ellery (center) and Jaya (right) and a friend at a 2012 benefit for Alexâ€™s Lemonade Stand Foundation.
Giada De Laurentiis and Chris Bianco at the third annual L.A. Loves Alexâ€™s Lemonade event.
A young guest enjoys lunch at a special kidsâ€™ area at the L.A. Loves Alexâ€™s Lemonade fundraiser.
For the past four years, superstar chef Suzanne Goin, her business partner, Caroline Styne (together the two operate Lucques, A.O.C, and Tavern), and her husband, chef David Lentz (of The Hungry Cat), have gathered chefs and mixologists from all over the world for an event called L.A. Loves Alex’s Lemonade, which raises funds to combat pediatric cancer.
In all, L.A. Loves Alex’s Lemonade has raised more than a million dollars. Last year alone, more than 1,200 people attended the event and raised $500,000-plus—and this year’s food and drinks fest is expected to break that record.
It is a fitting legacy for a cause that began back in 2000, when 4-year-old cancer patient Alexandra “Alex” Scott decided to start a lemonade stand to help raise money for other children with cancer. Although Alex did not survive her battle, her story and philanthropic spirit live on.
L.A. Loves Alex’s Lemonade embodies the sense of vitality, initiative, and energy that little Alex instilled in those around her. Lentz explains how the trio decided to get involved with Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, saying, “Five years ago I was at Marc Vetri’s Great Chefs event in Philadelphia with Suzanne. Liz Scott (Alex’s mother) gave a very powerful and emotional speech. We had recently had twins ourselves, and our daughter is named Alex, so it really struck a nerve.”
So much so, continues Lentz, that, “On the flight back to Los Angeles, we decided that we needed to do something to help in the fight against pediatric cancer. Soon after that we were approached by the foundation to do a West Coast benefit, and we gladly said yes.”
“Suzanne and I had talked for years and years about doing our own fundraiser but hadn’t found the right charity,” says Styne. “But when Suzanne and David came home and told me all about the foundation—how moved and inspired they were—we decided that Alex’s Lemonade was the perfect cause.”
So the three pooled their resources and contacts, calling upon their chef friends to help. Since then, the event has grown every year, but it has also evolved, explains Lentz. “Each year we look at the event and really ask ourselves how can we make it better,” he begins. “At a lot of events like this, children are discouraged, but last year we included a really great area for kids so families could come. We don’t just want the ‘foodie’ demographic. We want to reach out to everyone that this horrible disease could affect. We want everyone to hear Alex’s message.”
Styne agrees. “Every year, the event gets a little bigger, with slightly different chefs, but it always maintains an intimate quality as well.”
From her perspective, Styne says there are plenty of elements that set L.A. Loves Alex’s Lemonade apart from other fundraisers. “There are many really wonderful events in Los Angeles,” she says, “but the unique thing about ours is the caliber and reach of the chefs that we bring together, as well as the incredible lineup of wineries and mixologists. We also feature a presentation mid-event about the foundation and introduce the attendees to some of the heroes and to Alex’s parents. It’s incredibly moving and reminds everyone why we do this event in the first place.”
Between cooking demonstrations and musical performances, guests are invited to listen to the stories of pediatric cancer patients and their families—including Liz and husband Jay Scott—for a poignant and often triumphant counterpoint to the charitable revelry.
Whether it’s geared to foodies or not, there are still guaranteed to be plenty of them in attendance, both for the gourmet fare and the chance to support a great cause. How could they stay away when this year’s lineup of chefs includes distinguished toques such as Matthew Accarrino from San Francisco’s A16 and SPQR, April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig in New York, Brian Huston from The Publican in Chicago, Michael Cimarusti of Providence (and now Connie and Ted’s), Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook of Animal and Son of a Gun, Susan Feniger of Street, and celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis, among many others.
Lentz adds, “I think the array of chefs, vintners, and mixologists is second to none compared to any other event in Los Angeles.” Styne, too, loves seeing everyone get together and is thrilled when she experiences “the camaraderie and festive [mood] of the event.”
But you won’t find tasting menus or over-the-top fancy foods here. “The goal was always to make it really fun,” explains Lentz. “To model it after a great cookout."
Lentz’s own eatery, The Hungry Cat, will be serving a raw bar and pit beef sandwiches with pickled onions and horseradish aioli.
The event also features both silent and live auctions with items and experiences, including some of the participating chefs coming into winners’ homes and preparing special meals just for them.
Although L.A. Loves Alex’s Lemonade garners much-deserved attention, Goin, Styne, and Lentz’s involvement isn’t limited to the annual affair. “My kids and I always participate in Lemonade Days and have lemonade stands at our house and school to raise money for the charity,” says Styne. “We also feature special cocktails at the restaurants and give a portion of the sales to the foundation.”
In fact, Lentz recalls, “Several years ago we decided to donate $2 from every sale of our Luke’s Lemonade specialty cocktail from all of The Hungry Cat locations.” He notes with a sense of pride, “We have contributed thousands of dollars, and The Hungry Cat is one of the top 100 contributors to Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation.” Now that’s another fitting legacy. L.A. Loves Alex’s Lemonade will be held Saturday, September 28 from 12–4 pm at Culver Studios, Culver City
photography by Alex J. Berliner/AB images (dern, de laurentiis); molly cranna