Diner en Blanc 2015
For the third year in a row hundreds of people all dressed in white converged on a secret location in the Okanagan, flash mob style, setting long tables on the grass, covering them with white linen, white dishes and elaborate white center pieces, then wave white linen napkins in the air to signify the beginning of this special event that takes place in many countries around the world around the same time.
Diner en Blanc was conceived almost accidentally by a French (who else) aristocrat entertaining his friends at the Bois de Boulogne forest-like park in the 16th arrondissement in Paris. Monsieur Pasquier party guests were asked to dress in white to distinguish themselves from other park visitors.The event was so successful that a repeat party the next year attracted more than 1000 guests in white attire and the rest is history, still in the making. Since the original gathering in 1988 in the Bois de Boulonge, Dîner en Blanc has taken on an international theme and the elegant picnics are now held on every continent from Africa, North America, Asia, Australia, and of course the originating Europe. This year 10,000 people attended the Diner en Blanc in Paris, and the event was held at two locations: the Palais royal and the Louvre. See images of this event below.
My friend Val of More than Burnt Toast and I have been going to these dinners since the first one three years ago. Our group has now grown to include my husband G, Murissa of The Wanderful Traveller and her lovely Mom, Laura of The Culinary Travel guide (missing this year), Carola and a few more adventurous souls.
Yes, you’d have to have a sense of adventure to attend one of these events because it is not all smooth sailing. It’s one thing having to gather all of the required paraphernalia including white clothes, but you also have to bring it all with you to the dinner, meaning lugging the table, chairs, a three course meal and all the accessories with you and get it onto the school bus they use to transport everyone to the secret location. I have to admit that my independent spirit rebels at this stage. I don’t like rules and detest lineups and here is where I begin to wonder if the entire experience is worth the trouble.
Eventually we made it onto the bus and after driving for a while the location was disclosed: Peachland. But where in Peachland? That remained to be seen. I can’t say that the 30 minute bus ride was fun. It was extremely hot, no air conditioning and I was sitting on the small bench at the back of the bus over the wheels or something because there was a huge bump under my seat and I barely had room to move. I had to stand up in my seat the best I could for a while to avoid feeling claustrophobic. What happened to air conditioned normal buses? I would pay more to have one.
Eventually we made it to Peachland, unloaded our stuff from the bus and were directed to a grassy field across the road from the lake to set up our tables. A little chaos ensued, we were directed from here to there, eventually found our row location and our place in the table lineup and begun to unpack and set up. Soon the table was assembled and we walked over to get the chairs we rented this year (wise move). The rental was very well organized. We picked up the chairs at the rental tent at the edge of the field, picked up the wine we bought at another tent on the opposite side and soon we had our table covered with white cloth, white dishes, center pieces in place and the napkins waving officially started the event.
From here it was smooth sailing. Thankfully it was not sunny and there was a slight breeze from the lake coming our way. We looked around at all the beautifully set white tables, some with candles flickering or gorgeous white flower arrangements (how did they get them here on the bus?) and you begin to remember why you made the effort to be here. Because in spite of the work, it is a special experience, a visual feast and testament to our love of celebration, rituals and community.
Being the foodies that we are, we had quite a feast in store. We started with a cheese tray prepared by our friend Carola, who brought local cheeses, savoury jams, baguette and crackers among a few other antipasto items. We begun to relax with a glass of Pinot Noir and attempted to carry on a conversation over the loud music played by the DJ just down the field from us. It was nearly impossible to hear anyone who was not right beside you.
After the cheese we continued with the main course that this year consisted of three salads. Val prepared an exquisite lobster and fennel salad with arugula that she garnished with edible flowers. My salads contribution were fingerling potato salad with grainy mustard vinaigrette and lentil salad with roasted eggplant, zucchini and red pepper with pistachios and thyme. I put my herbs and edible flowers garden to good use in these dishes. For dessert Val brought a Creme Brûlée from Okanagan Grocery Artisan Bread Bakery and topped it with her own special Roasted Balsamic Cherries. These were so delicious I hardly needed anything to go with them. We had coffee, biscotti, more wine, no shortage of food.
After dinner Val and I like to take a walk through the grounds, check out what people are wearing, take pictures of special table settings and say hello here and there to other foodies or die-hard friends who have been attending this event for the past three years.
The evening ends at 10:00 pm with lighting of sparklers and 1000 people waving their sparklers in the dark night air in a ritual that is repeated in Diner en Blanc events worldwide. Then it’s time to pack everything, return the rentals and walk back to the bus for the ride home. Like a flash mob, we appear and disappear leaving nothing behind but our footprints in the grass.
It is quite an honour for our small Okanagan community to be granted the Diner en Blanc status considering that other locations include Paris, London, New York,San Francisco, Barcelona and other major centres around the world. Kudos to the organizers Spatula Media and Impact Events for having achieved this for us and organize the event for the 1000 participant that came this year. The logistics are complicated and they manage to carry them out with efficiency and order, relying on a large group of volunteers no doubt.
Would I do it gain next year? very likely, but as I said to Val, in a simplified form. Next year I would rent everything that is offered for rent so we have less to carry. I think we can also simplify the menu. I wouldn’t buy the food though, this is the part we enjoy doing and the “raison d’etre” for the chic picnic. But we don’t need as much food as we have been bringing to the event. Speaking for myself, I have the tendency to make enough food for an army even when only a few people are on the guest list. So more rental and less food are the resolutions for next year. Let’s see how it plays itself out. Stay tuned.