Carolyn Deaver was about to step into her model kitchen at the March of Dimes Gourmet Gala last night, which was decorated in the style of Paul Ce'zanne -- but Carolyn Deaver suggested a better design.

"Maybe our kitchen should have been a BMW," she said, smiling. "How to cook in the front seat of a BMW."

But then the initials caught the attention of her husband, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Deaver, who suddenly stopped smiling.

"I don't want to talk about the car," he said, interrupting his conversation with someone else. "I don't want us to talk about the car," he told Carolyn.

Before Michael Deaver heard what his wife was talking about, Carolyn Deaver said she didn't know exactly what kind of BMW her husband had bought with a diplomatic discount during a recent visit to West Germany to arrange a presidential visit in May. And, she said, she didn't understand what all the fuss was about.

The State Department has said the transaction is legal, but presidential counsel Fred Fielding is looking into its "propriety."

"It's nothing new," said Carolyn Deaver. "It's been done for years."

While the Deavers whipped up their tomato beef curry, House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. cared for his scalloped fish.

"They didn't give us much fish," said O'Neill, who was wearing a big tuxedo and a big apron and standing over a stove stirring a pan full of chopped onions. "We don't have enough utensils. But this is a great, great dish. You take the fish and add the green peppers and onions . . ."

But poor Chef Tip was hardly given enough time to saute', what with all the proffered hands and requests for pictures. Somehow, he managed to work the room without even leaving his kitchen.

And Dan Rather, well, Dan Rather is Dan Rather -- superceleb. Deaver, O'Neill (D-Mass.), Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.), Rep. Jim Wright (D-Tex.) and a ladleful of other cooks didn't draw half the crowd that rushed to the CBS anchor's kitchen.

"I'm not going to lie to you," said Rather. "I'm not a very good cook. I do about three or four things and none of them very well."

What he was doing last night was called Country Salad, which consisted of some kidney beans and some corn and some other stuff. Nothing very exciting, but the 975 guests didn't seem to mind. They all shook his hand anyway.

All, that is, except one woman, who stopped for a moment and then continued on.

"I'm a good friend of the Westmorelands," she said, "so I don't think. . ."

Just down the culinary block, Wright was cracking eggs while his wife Betty was working at the stove.

"Braised rump of elephant," he explained.

That got a lot of laughs. A political joke is much more popular than chocolate nut pudding could ever be.

One scheduled chef was missing: WRC anchor Jim Vance.

"He's just not doing any public appearances now," said WRC anchor Lea Thompson of Vance, who recently returned from the Betty Ford Center. "This has been scheduled for months. He's decided he's going to stay out of the limelight. He's doing superbly."

After the guests -- who had paid $150 each and raised $350,000 -- tested the celebrity offerings, the winners were announced. Paul and Carol Laxalt's leg of lamb got first place for entree, and from there the list went on and on and on. As chef and Canadian Ambassador Allan Gotlieb said when he left early because his wife Sondra was recovering from surgery, "Everyone gets a prize, right?"

Everyone, it seemed, did.