It was probably the most elite covered-dish buffet ever, the one to celebrate food writer Craig Claiborne's birthday, his 25 years at the New York Times, and his new book, A Feast Made For Laughter (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. $17.95).
Thirty-six cooks were invited to bring one of their specialties, enough for 20 or more people. Many came from the top restaurants in New York; some from California. Some came with elegant displays; others brought family-style regional dishes.
One famous guest, Chef Roger Verge, flew in from France. Danny Kaye was one of several celebrities. Cookbook writers served their own foods, representing a complete array of international cuisine.
It all took place at Craig Claiborne's home in East Hampton, N.Y., a kind of gastronomic crossroads where visiting chefs from all over the world have cooked and been interviewed by Claiborne and his colleague, chef Pierre Franey.
Claiborne was concerned that there might not be enough food. He said many guests had called at the last minute, begging invitations for extra guests - and Southern gentleman that he is, he found it difficult to say no. But there was plenty of delicious food for all.
As we walked up the drive, tantalizing aromas of Brazilian barbecued beef, Cajun redfish, spit-roasted lamb, shrimp gumbo, and freshly baked breads mingled with the breeze of the perfect late-summer day.
A yellow and white tent had been raised, and chairs and tables with colorful cloths were around the tent, inside the house, and spilling over onto the deck.
Near the kitchen door chef Guy Pascal of La Cote Basque (unless otherwise noted all restaurants mentioned are in New York) was decorating half a dozen or more bowls of English trifle with whipped cream.
Inside, the kitchen was full of cooks of all nationalities, finishing or heating their dishes. French bouillabaisse on one burner, Chinese noodles on another. Mexican and Near East chefs were chopping, assembling, and garnishing.
Some brought their dishes completely prepared and ready to serve, others came the night before, bringing all kinds of ingredients, from sides of meat to live shellfish. They stayed overnight in East Hampton homes, where they cooked their food, then brought it to the party.
Paul Prudhomme, chef-owner of K. Paul's Louisiana Kitchen in New Orleans cooked his famous Creole-Cajun blackened redfish in two huge, black iron skillets outside. He also served huge kettles of shrimp jambalaya along with red beans and rice.
Huge pieces of beef cooked on a stick over a charcoal fire in a pit for Dorthea Elman's Churrasco, a Brazilian beef barbecue with onion sauce.
Michael Tong, major-domo of Shun Lee restaurants, brought Chef David Lin of Shun Lee West, who made Chinese noodles, tossing the dough in the air and twirling it until it suddenly turned into beautiful noodles.
Jati Hoon, owner of Gaylord's Restaurant brought his head chef, Gorkhu Ram, a day in advance to prepare Tandoori Chicken, boneless Chicken Tikka, and the wonderful Indian breads naan and paratha.
George Lang, owner of Cafe des Artistes, made a huge Hungarian pate with more than 100 ingredients.
Maida Heatter, author of ''The New Book of Great Desserts,'' brought her famous lemon cakes, which have the extra dividend of fresh lemon juice in the glaze, and also her equally fabulous Walnut Tart from Saint-Paul-de-Vence, which is really a very fancy cake covered with chocolate and walnut halves.
Dolores Baills helped serve the delicious authentic bouillabaisse made by her husband, Claude Baills, owner of Claude's restaurant.
Seppi Renggli, chef of the Four Seasons, brought baked capons, braised in their own juices with root vegetables, and wonderful relishes.
Alice Waters, chef-owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., brought a platter of marinated sweet peppers in different colors, mixed with anchovies.
The Le Cirque contingent were early in setting up their dishes at the far end of the tent. The restaurant's chef, Alain Sailhac, and Dieter Schormer, its pastry chef, brought superb pates made with fish, duck, and rabbit. They also offered beautiful pastries, including exquisite spun-sugar fruits and flowers decorating small, round cakes.
Roger Fessaguet, former chef and an owner of La Caravelle, set up his roast of veal next to two friends he calls the ''French Mafia,'' Jean-Jacques Paimblanc, research chef for Howard Johnson, who had prepared cold Sole Duglere, and Jean Vergnes, a former partner of Le Cirque, who made a wonderful blini dish with clams.
Huge round loaves of French bread from Poilane of Paris spelled birthday greetings to the host. Ken Hom, author of ''Chinese Technique,'' who likes to combine East and West brought his Chinese ratatouille.
Ann Seranne, author of many cookbooks, made a lacy, deep fried combination of shredded foods that she called an oriental fantasy.
At the other side of the tent Jacques Pepin served his own version of ceviche from expertly sculptured melon baskets.
Edna Lewis in a handsome caftan served squab chicken with basil, beautifully garnished with fresh red and white currants. Florence Lin, author of ''Chinese Regional Cookbook'' and other books, served exquisite Chinese smoked chicken, garnished with tiny carrot butterflies.
Marcella Hazan brought a beautiful vegetable lasagna; Marion Cunningham had apple pizza to offer; Barbara Tropp served spicy cold noodles; and Madhur Jaffrey brought clams in coconut and green-chili sauce.
Copeland Marks, author of ''The Indonesian Kitchen,'' made hot and sour beef with Macadamia sauce. Diana Kennedy, author of ''The Cuisines of Mexico'' had a huge casserole of her famous turkey mole poblano.
Edward Giobbi, author of ''Italian Family Cooking,'' had cooked a whole baby lamb on a spit, Italian style. Bernard Clayton Jr., author of ''The Complete Book of Breads'' had many kinds of breads on display for sampling and Gael Greene served a mushroom strudel.
For the most unusual or most unfamiliar dish, it was a toss-up, perhaps, between the baby eel salad and tripes Madrid-style, prepared by Penelope Casas, and Laura Sandifer's chitlins, or chitterlings. Casas has a book on Spanish foods soon to be published and Sandifer's coming book is on Southern cooking.
Southern foods were also well represented by Tom Slough at an outdoors table, where he cooked deep-fried catfish with hush puppies. Vivien Collyer had made pecan pies, Mississippi-style. Zarela Martinez-Gabilondo, a Texas caterer, made jumbo shrimp with garlic sauce.
It was a weekend of parties for all concerned, since there was also a party the night before the party, when Claiborne and Pierre Franey hosted those who did the cooking of the various foods for the event.
The next day there was a beautiful outdoor party in his honor at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Warner LeRoy, and on Monday John Sargent, chairman of Doubleday, publisher of Claiborne's book, hosted a brunch.