The prize was a home-cooked dinner for eight, prepared by a parent — one of New York’s most celebrated chefs and a perennial on the Food Network. The bidding started at $3,000 — a fabulous bargain. Nearly two dozen paddles shot up in the air. The bidders were the usual suspects — Wall Streeters, big-firm lawyers, a sprinkling of doctors, a few people with money but no visible means of support.

Nursed by a steady stream of champagne cocktails, the bidders were a competitive lot. At $7,000, the doctors dropped out of the game; at $10,000, most of the other professionals were gone; at $15,000, the lawyers and the trust fund babies bit the dust. With only the financial titans in the game, the bidding got intense: $20,000, $25,000, $30,000. Sold for $40,000! The winner: the wife of a 30-something hedge fund manager.

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