A DINNER FOR DIGNITARIES

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THEY were dubbed Boston's culinary dream team.

Eighteen of Boston's top chefs assembled by Julia Child cooked dinner for the nation's governors, their spouses, and other dignitaries as part of the official welcome to the 86th National Governors Association Meeting, which concluded last week in Boston.

The upstairs level of the State House glistened with gubernatorial guests, dressed in ``conservative cocktail'' attire. Below, in a makeshift kitchen, culinary luminaries dressed comfortably in chef whites and baseball caps.

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Many of these chefs have cooked together in each others' kitchens and at various charity events. But the governors' dinner carried a bit more pressure to please.

``This is a pretty prestigious event,'' said Jasper White, owner of Jasper's. All the chefs gave up a Saturday night - the busiest night in restaurants - to cook for the governors and partake in a little socializing of their own. ``We're all friends; it's a good group,'' Mr. White added.

So, how did 18 chefs agree on what to serve some 400 dignitaries?

Under the eagle eye of Ms. Child, they designed what they considered an outstanding menu with a decidedly New England flavor.

``We are proud to present you with a parade of New England products, from seafood that abounds in our waters to locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables, and meat and dairy products from our neighboring farms,'' wrote Child in the dinner program. ``We are particularly proud of our chefs, who in many ways are like a big family. They are constantly sharing techniques and experience among themselves, and creating new settings in which to train others.''

The range of cooking styles is broad, observed Stan Frankenthaler, owner of the soon-to-open Salamander, standing by with his appetizers of Crisp Chinese Noodle Cakes with Maine Crab and Coriander Salad. He considered the event an opportunity to swap names of good suppliers with his fellow chefs and to represent the region. ``It's positive for New England and for the participating restaurants,'' he says.

The chefs went to great lengths to plot a menu of quintessential New England fare, said Holly Safford, owner of The Catered Affair, who played a key role in orchestrating the event.

Ms. Safford and the chefs designed the menu so that each table of nine would be served three different dishes. For example, at one table, three people got a Hamersley's lobster dish, three others got a Jasper's lobster dish, and the remaining three got a Biba lobster dish. Likewise with lamb from three other restaurants. ``That keeps things interesting,'' Safford said, adding: ``Upstairs? They love it.''

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