Fighting the Big C, Tastefully

Robert Gallagher

Showtime, UTA and 20th TV brass will dine well and raise money on April 15.

The idea behind the 16th annual Taste for a Cure fundraiser, which benefits UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, is to eat, drink and fight the disease. Or, more specifically, eat and drink exceptionally well while funding one of the country's top treatment and research centers. The annual event takes place in the Beverly Wilshire's ballroom -- a venue not always associated with specialty dining -- but on April 15, the usual banquet dinner will be put aside. The fare will be from Oregon's Willamette Valley, with 15 of the region's best wineries (Domaine Drouhin is one) and five of its upscale restaurants (including chef Sunny Jin's Jory) setting up stations.

"I don't want to suggest that there's pain involved in attending fundraising events because we all know the drill," says benefit co-chair and 20th Century Fox TV chairman Dana Walden, who's on the Jonsson Foundation board along with her fellow chairman at the studio, Gary Newman, as well as UTA's Jay Sures and David Kramer. "Our greatest asset is being able to say, 'You're going to eat great food and enjoy amazing wine at the same time.' "

Walden had a personal experience with Jonsson that motivated her to become involved with Taste. Three years ago, her mother needed treatment for a form of lymphatic cancer. They spent a month visiting other facilities together, but what sold Walden on the JCCC -- where her mother was successfully treated -- was its comprehensive approach. "Every conceivable specialist is there in this one place who can weigh in on what's the best approach to your diagnosis," she says.

Along with cancer treatment, much of Jonsson's work as a "translational center" involves research. Money raised at Taste is unrestricted, which JCCC director Judith Gasson says is especially important to her budget. These "venture philanthropy" funds can be invested quickly in the facility's work (as opposed to grants and federal funds, with their pesky bureaucratic delays). Donations can serve as seed money that turns into grants; $1 from an event like Taste can grow into $21 in federal support. One breakthrough that's come from the JCCC is the molecularly targeted breast cancer drug Herceptin, which increases survival rates by more than half.

This year's event -- expected to raise $750,000 -- will feature honors going to Showtime entertainment president David Nevins, who said the reasons he agreed to get involved were that his network does The Big C; his work on a number of what he calls "doctor-as-action hero shows," including ER; and that he was impressed by the JCCC. "I availed myself of a tour of the labs and asked a lot of questions," he says. "It's sort of a side benefit."

The event, organizers promise, will move at a brisk pace. There's an auction limited to a few items -- including a trip to a new luxury resort in the Willamette Valley -- because, says Taste co-chair Jon Holman, "If there's too many, you feel like you're at a hog call." There will be performances by singer-dancer Julianne Hough and Glee's Matthew Morrison then a presentation about the JCCC's work, after the crowd has mellowed from the drinking and dining. "We try to make this so that people actually enjoy themselves," Sures says. "So that it's not just another rubber-chicken fundraising dinner."

Taste for a Cure is April 15 at the Beverly Wilshire. Go to for more details.