A Chinese tycoon served up an elegant lunch Wednesday to hundreds of homeless New Yorkers at a Central Park restaurant, performed magic tricks for the seated crowd, and regaled his 250 guests with a version of "We Are the World," all in the name of philanthropy.
Recycling magnate and multi-millionaire Chen Guangbiao selected a menu of sesame-seed-encrusted tuna, beef filet and berries with crème fraiche for residents of a Manhattan shelter. His original plan was to invite 1,000 homeless and give everyone envelopes containing $300 in cash. But security concerns raised by homeless advocates and police forced Chen to change his plans.
Instead, the event was smaller and the money was donated to charity, though some in attendance posed for photos with cash gifted by Chen anyway. The Chinese businessman partnered on the event with the New York City Rescue Mission, the oldest shelter in the nation.
"Our thought was if someone wants to treat them to an amazing event - something they would never experience on their own, maybe even a kernel of hope that life could be different again, we're in for that reason. That's our motive," said Craig Mayes, the Mission's executive director.
About three dozen volunteer waiters sported green uniforms similar to those once worn by soldiers in China's People's Liberation Army, bearing the words "Serve the People." They circled the room, serving food to a mostly male group of attendees.
"I'm looking forward to a good time and a good meal," said Antone Hills, a Mission resident who was a guest. "I think he's a good guy and he's helping our country."
Chen says his goal is to encourage charity among China's wealthy, and to change the perception that the country's elite are more concerned with leading lavish lifestyles than with helping others.
His worth is estimated at $750 million.
"I was not born into a rich family or a family of government officials. When I was 4 years old my brother and sister died of hunger, so I achieved my success through confidence, self-motivation and my hard work," Chen said in Chinese on a U.S. morning television interview before the event.
But Chen's American ambitions surpass philanthropy.
Earlier this year, the 46-year-old businessman wanted to buy The New York Times. Times chairman Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., said the newspaper was not for sale.
To announce today's lunch, Chen placed ads in the Times and The Wall Street Journal, saying he wanted to invite "poor and destitute Americans." His photo was printed next to an image of Lei Feng, a soldier in Mao Zedong's People's Liberation Army who is characterized as selfless. The caption read "China's Lei Feng for a new era." Some of the waiters' outfits on Wednesday wore replicas of Lei's uniform.
Chen has been deemed eccentric from his theatrical antics.
To protest air pollution in Beijing last year, he stood on a street corner handing out containers marked "Fresh Air." Chen also rushed to the scene of a massive earthquake in Sichuan in 2008 and handed out cash to victims.
On his business card, Chen lists himself as "China Moral Leader."
That title is sandwiched between eight other monikers including, the "Most Influential Person of China," "Most Well-known and Beloved Chinese Role Model," and "Most Charismatic Philanthropist of China."
--Associated Press, CNBC's Eunice Yoon and Brad Quick contributed to this report.