Jewish World Review July 16, 2004 / 27 Tamuz, 5764
Bad taste at James Beard Foundation; Hunted at Prey?; more
NEW YORK It smells like trouble's in the oven at the James Beard Foundation.
That's the Manhattan-based shrine to American cooking, founded by Beard's friend Julia Child after his death in 1985, and headquartered in the legendary chef's Greenwich Village brownstone.
A month ago, longtime foundation president Len Pickell who has overseen the increasingly wealthy non-profit since 1996 quietly took a leave of absence. The public explanation for Pickell's departure was a bad back.
But the board of trustees which includes socialite Nina Griscom, chef and author Jacques Pepin, and Fortune 500 CEO Albert H. Nahmad have hired New York attorney Michael Berger to head up an independent investigation of the foundation's finances, politely described by foundation officials as "an inquiry and review."
Pickell didn't respond Thursday to a message seeking comment, left for him at the foundation.
Now lawyers and accountants are poring over the books "a top to bottom review," trustee George Sape told me and a detailed report is expected within a month.
"They're looking at various aspects of the organization," said Sape, himself a prominent New York lawyer. "I don't want to get into any details until the report is completed."
Privately, sources familiar with the investigation are talking about the challenge of trying to account for hundreds of thousands of dollars in the foundation's $4.5 million annual budget.
On Thursday, this column's Rachel Jonas visited the foundation's 12th St. offices and tried unsuccessfully to obtain the group's "990" IRS forms the tax returns that nonprofits such as the James Beard Foundation are required by law to make publicly available.
Skittish employees declined to give them to her, and asked her to leave.
Although Sape told me the James Beard Foundation is operating "at a slight surplus" this year, the group has a reputation for splurging on first-class travel and accommodations, limousines and, of course, the very finest of food and drink.
Perhaps prophetically, Pickell told The Washington Post back in 1996: "I know what people are wondering. I hear the question all the time. 'Where does the money go? Where does the money go?'"
HUNTED AT PREY?
Are they or aren't they?
I hear that hot-tempered supermodel Naomi Campbell and babe-magnet movie director Brett Ratner who last spring were rumored in the press to have been romantically linked spent a recent evening cozying up to each other at L.A. hotspot Prey.
Ratner's current girlfriend, tennis star Serena Williams, was nowhere in sight.
A spy for this column reports that true to form, Campbell "pitched a diva fit" when her and Ratner's table wasn't ready, "ranting and flailing her arms." She then demanded that security escort her in, lest she actually have to brush up against any common folk en route to her VIP table.
Higher-wattage celebs such as teen queen Lindsay Lohan and rocker Gwen Stefani who were seated at tables nearby made much more low-key entrances.
On Thursday, Campbell e-mailed from her hand-held: "Not true I arrived in la on friday, and I went to shelter with Quincy (Jones) on sat the only club I went to."
Our spy countered, "Naomi was at Prey. Everyone saw her."
Ratner's rep had only this to say: "Serena is Brett's girlfriend."
THE NOT-SO-SIMPLE LIFE: Paris Hilton might have a video, but Altus, Ark., resident Janet Leding who hosted Hilton and Nicole Richie at her home for the first season of the hit Fox series hopes to write a book. On Thursday, Leding told this column's Rachel Jonas that she already has "several pages done" about the girls gone wild who lived under her roof. "There was a lot of good times, a lot of bad times, too," Leding said. "I'm starting from the beginning." But, she added, "I don't really know how to go about doing it," nor does she have a publisher. "I want to have the book totally wrote as soon as our contract is over." The Ledings are obliged not to speak publicly about their experiences with Hilton and Richie until after Sept. 8, she told Jonas. Hilton's PR rep didn't return this column's detailed messages Thursday.
PLAYING AGAINST TYPE?: Guess who's starring as Moses in the pop opera "The Ten Commandants: The Spectacular," slated for Radio City Music Hall in January after a September run at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles? Thursday, at the Ischia Film & Music Global Fest, none other than Val Kilmer soon to be seen as Phillip of Macedonia in Oliver Stone's "Alexander" claimed the role. With Torah fire in his voice, Kilmer declaimed to the Italian media: "Last night at dinner I got a phone call from my agent. I will play Moses." Isn't he too young to play Moses? "No," the 44-year-old Kilmer answered. "I've been making my children learn The Ten Commandments. Now they'll be singing it." Thus saith the Val.
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© 2003, Creators Syndicate