The Chef, His Friends, The Birthday Party And the Hospital

You know that great food and wine are a seductive combination, so suffice to say that Saturday's birthday bash for master chef Michel Richard was a pretty sensual affair. Some of the world's top chefs gathered at Citronelle in Georgetown to celebrate Richard's 40 years as a chef, the 10th anniversary of his restaurant, his 55th birthday and his brand-new American citizenship. "To be with all my friends, to come together is so nice because it's so rare," said Richard. "It's like a school reunion. It's fabulous."

At the tables: Star chefs like Paris's Pierre Gagnaire, New York's Daniel Boulud and Washington's Patrick O'Connell, who came to honor Richard's generosity, artistry and showmanship. "The creativity of him is what we all wish," said Boulud. "We wish we could think the way he thinks. And he's captivating. He's French -- but just French enough."

On the menu was an eight-course dinner prepared by the likes of Washington's Roberto Donna, Robert Wiedmaier and Stephan Beauvallet, San Francisco's Thomas Keller, Atlanta's Guenter Seeger and other acclaimed names who took the night off from their own restaurants to join the party. "We always have fun," Donna chuckled as he put the finishing touches on vegetable ravioli with black truffles. "With Michel there is no other way. You have fun or you're out."

The guest of honor split his night between the kitchen and the dining room, where 100 guests swooned from course to course (and raised $25,000 for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital). Cake was presented about midnight, just as chefs from local restaurants began drifting in. Cigars were lit, wine and kisses flowed and the party lasted until 3 a.m. "Every year, I'm going to celebrate my birthday," declared the delighted Richard.

We'll start dieting right away.

The Best Medicine

Never underestimate the healing power of laughter, which is why friends gathered Wednesday at the Improv to celebrate the life of Christopher Duncan. Duncan was a waiter at the comedy club for two years before he died from injuries sustained in an apartment fire in January. "He just had something spiritual," said good friend Luis Villatoro. "You would just want to be around him."

More than 175 pals, including Vanessa Chandler and Tonya Esposito, above, honored Duncan by laughing with comedians Erik Myers, Matt Kazam and Todd Rexx -- and raised $8,000 for the Fire Fighters Burn Foundation. "As far as I'm concerned, humor is the best thing in the world," said Improv manager Allyson Jaffe. "It gives you a physical escape from stress and grief, and also gives you an escape from reality -- without paying $10 for a crappy movie."

The Big Green Apple

The Big Apple came to Washington Saturday for "New York, New York," the 15th annual Leukemia Ball. "It's the biggest event like this in Washington," said Executive Director David Timko. "Next year we'll think of something, but it will be hard to top this."

Let us define "this": The Washington Convention Center was transformed into a mini-Manhattan, with pathways designed to evoke Central Park, a light-projected skyline, yellow taxi cookies, and native New Yorker and proud dad Jerry Seinfeld, bottom, on the mike.

"Let us make no mistake as to why babies are here," the father of a new baby boy quipped to the crowd of 2,500. "They're here to replace us! 'Oh, am I drooling? I'm sorry, I'm just looking at all your stuff I'm going to take over!' " Seinfeld's kids have plenty to inherit, of course, and the comedian pocketed lots more to joke about everything from weddings to raisin bran.

Sharing in the laughs and raising a record $2.8 million for leukemia research were HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson; Sallie Mae CEO Al Lord (top, with Jamie Stiehm and Kathleen Deleski); FAA President Marion Blakey; and honorees Phillip Merrick and Caren DeWitt.

Next year? The Even Bigger Apple, complete with yelling cabbies and striking musicians? Fugeddaboutit.

With Beth Buchanan