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Babes in arms (and gowns)



Nothing like a good ol’ rootin’, tootin’ auto show to bring the folks of Southeast Michigan out of their collective post-holiday depression/seasonal affective disorder/recessionary sturm und drang.

That’s right, the North American International Auto Show Charity Preview, aka Auto Prom, took place last Friday, which is sort of like a Detroit version of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland saying “Hey, let’s put on a play in the barn,” except in this case Cobo Hall subs for the barn, and Mickey Rooney is played by a multilingual, multiheaded industrial hydra which includes Rick Wagoner, Bill Ford Jr., and Dieter Zetsche in prominent positions. Judy Garland, on the other hand, is played by a cast of thousands of helmet-haired, salon-coiffed, sharp-elbowed auto wives, debutantes and social butterflies who actually think it’s a lot of fun to cram your elegantly-attired arse into Cobo Hall with 17,500 others for a chance at a free plastic flute of Piper Sonoma and perhaps some lucky crudités at some generous automaker’s hospitality bar.

Moreover, instead of raising a few greenbacks so Ma and Pa can prevent a foreclosure on the family farm, the Charity Preview raises more than $6 million for needy and deserving local charities. In any event, to drive a tired cliché firmly into the cold, hard ground, this is where Detroit’s elite come to meet and not eat.

As always, your intrepid reporter takes ample advantage of the international press preview the preceding week, where select thousands in the media freeloading corps sup at the auto show trough. As is my wont, my first stop on last Tuesday’s “Media Freeloader Lunch Tour-2002” was the Audi café, which answers the age-old question of what you would get if you crossed Ferndale’s über-trendy Bosco chill-bar with a European car dealership.

Naturally, spotted chowing down on the last of the sushi was Made in Detroit’s Robert Stanzler and frequent accomplice Pete Franco. Stanzler had apparently outfitted many of the auto show employees, as I noticed more than a few familiar logos as I strolled through the show. In any event, the Spaten was on tap, the ham was being carved, and, in lieu of the sushi shortage, I opted for the grilled salmon and green beans for lunch, with a crème brûlée for dessert. (These events provoke a cross-pollination of cuisine. With Audi serving sushi, and Mercedes Benz serving gnocchi, there’s really an interesting bit of cultural disconnect.)

Leave it to stodgy predictable GM, however, to march right out with coney dogs and Stroh’s ice cream (and isn’t that an apt corporate metaphor).

Speaking of the long ice cream line, I did spy local promoter-type Adriel Thornton (in his Made in Detroit togs) waiting patiently for his turn at a triple-scoop butter brickle. The truly fun thing about this is the anachronistic non-PC style dieting behavior in play. It’s like you stepped back 30 years (or are stuck in a contemporary European train station), as everyone’s boozing and smoking up a storm at lunch, chowing on fatty foods, washing it down with beer and wine. I wouldn’t be surprised if some typically behind-the-trend-curve automaker installs a cigar-and-martini bar next year, which would no doubt bring back the three-martini lunch and stogie, if at least for a few days.

Of course, the bona fide star of the show had to be Ford’s GT40, a gorgeous retro-racer evoking images of its famed namesake from the ’60s. Ford obviously has high hopes for this one, as they gave it a plum position at the show, and even hauled in hardworking Vince “DJ Shortround” Patricola to spin for the show (DJs, by the way, are now de rigueur at auto shows after last year’s Mini introduction). The designer of Ford’s new GT40 is none other than Bankle Building bon vivant Camilo Pardo, the chief designer at the “Living Legends” studio. This car was so hot Ford even set up a separate bar for it to cool things down, serving only an ice cream concoction known as, natch, the GT40 cocktail (vanilla ice cream, OJ, Amaretto and egg shade).

Pardo was basking in the glow of the new car when I saw him at the Charity Preview, as numerous media cameras orbited around him. I myself had to deal with Roostertail scion John Schoenith orbiting about, peppering me with questions as to why his mug has never appeared in the column (done).

I beat a hasty retreat from the crowds to my waiting chariot underground, as my growling appetite was looking for something slightly more substantial than a GT40 cocktail.

Leave it to celebrated chef Jimmy Schmidt and the Rattlesnake Club to fill the void with their usual high roller’s dinner. This is kind of where the high-profile free agents in the industry congregate after the preview, when you aren’t obligated to attend a giant mediocre banquet-style fete put on by your corporate bosses/benefactors at (e.g. pick one), the State (DTE Energy), the Fox (PricewaterhouseCoopers), the Opera House (Dow), RenCen (GM) etc.

At the Snake, we were surrounded by the usual array of Edsel Ford and Keith Crain, Roger Penske, Irma “Troy Motor Mall” Elder and the like.

Culinary offerings ranged from seared Maine diver sea scallops with lobster salsa, lemon risotto and basil froth, to rack of baby Michigan lamb, roasted with pomegranate essence, chive oil and a yellow corn polenta pyramid, to a filet of prime beef, rubbed with smoky spices and grilled with cipollini onions, thyme-scented potato and squash gratin. Add to that a starter consisting of a dizzying array of hot and cold seafood hors d’oeuvres, and top it off with the usual bounty of sumptuous desserts, including the trademark white chocolate ravioli.

Speaking of which, at the AutoWeek dinner earlier in the week, none other than GM’s silver-haired/ex-Marine/publicity-friendly/mercenary design major domo Bob Lutz proclaimed the Snake’s white chocolate ravioli as the one of the “greatest implementations of modern design.” Look for a new GM concept car based on the ravioli design in the near future.

Swanky Swingin’

For those still starved for glamour, glitz and gourmet cuisine, head over to the swankariffic Fisher Building this Saturday night, as the Fanclub Foundation for the Arts is putting on its annual Swingtime 2002 Spectacular. Last year, more than 1,700 attended the event, which features an art gallery, live big bands, a truly stellar and humble DJ (me), and some great food and drink from more than 30 local restaurants. This is always a vintage swingin’ extravaganza, and the doors will be opening up at 7:30 sharp. Fortunately, they’re opening up the mezzanine this year to alleviate some of the crowd pressure of years past, and tickets are going fast. For more info and tickets, call 248-584-4150.

Casey Coston writes here every other week. Got gossip, essential factoids or party invites? E-mail, or call the tip line at 313-962-5281. Press * then dial

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