Once upon a time, François Pasquier decided to throw a dinner party for his friends in Paris after having spent some years abroad. So many people responded that he asked them to congregate at the Bois de Boulogne dressed all in white so they could more easily locate one another. Thus began Le Dîner en Blanc (“the dinner in white”) 27 years ago, eventually becoming a worldwide phenomenon that takes place globally in 60 cities, with 100 more currently on the waiting list to join in.
Le Dîner en Blanc, New York City’s Pier 26, July 28, 2015. Photograph by Joe Cavallini, Used With Permission
Le Dîner en Blanc is the world’s largest viral event, a delicious hybrid of picnic and pop-up mystery tour. New York City joined the list of cities in 2011. The dinner, famously, keeps its actual location a secret until literally one hour before it begins. As if under a spell of enchantment, thousands of attendees make their way to the site, which is always an iconic urban setting (in past years the Dînerwas held at Bryant Park, Lincoln Center, and Battery Park). Those lucky enough to attend (there is a waiting list of some 35,000) set up folding tables and white chairs and unpack their gourmet picnic baskets to make ready for a lovely, surreal night in another world.
Photograph by Hal Horowitz at New York City’s Le Dîner en Blanc on July 28 at Pier 26; Used With Permission
The guests (who apply by lottery) are required to dress in white and bring white dinnerware and proper stemware along with their viands. They must also pack up their things and buss their own tables at the end of the night, post dinner and dancing, leaving no trace. The fashions range from elegant to stunning; the table settings are more often than not gorgeous and creative. It’s as if a magical small city appeared for just a few hours starting pre-twilight and ending after sunset paints the summer sky.
This year’s New York event on Tuesday July 28th was attended by a record five thousand people on Hudson River Park’s Pier 26. Even though the end of July delivered a very hot and humid night, it was breezy and magical on the pier. It has to be said that dressing in white also helped to temper the weather somewhat for the better. Enchantment is the word that came immediately to mind as I gazed in awe at the rows and rows of white tables, white outfits, white hats and headdresses, and gently bobbing white balloons.
I spoke with co-founders Aymeric Pasquier and Sandy Safi about the work that goes into an event of this magnitude. Now that there are 60 locations worldwide, “they’re all simultaneous on top of each other,” laughed Sandy. “We grew to 60 in a matter of 3 years. Most of it was due to having launched it here in New York.” She confirmed that a large part of the growth was due to social media: “a lot of organic growth, people saying, ‘Wow this is amazing’ and then contacting us saying, ‘How can I do it in Korea? Or Brazil?'” In fact, she pointed out, a team from both countries was in attendance this year to see it in person.
Photograph of Aymeric Pasquier at New York City’s Le Dîner en Blanc on July 28 at Pier 26 by Eric Vitale, Used With Permission
Four time James Beard Award winner and renowned restaurateur, author, and television personality Chef Todd English had returned for the second year (by popular demand) to curate special dinners for guests who order meals through Le Dîner en Blanc rather than bring their own. I asked him what dish he’d be eating if he wasn’t working. “Every one of them!” he exclaimed with a big smile. “I prepare this like I would prepare it for myself.”
This year’s Le Dîner en Blanc was sponsored by Apothic® White, Perrier-Jouët, and Celebrity Cruises. I asked Celebrity Cruises President and CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo how her company became involved with Le Dîner en Blanc. “We made a commitment this year that we were going to look for new and unique opportunities that we felt truly encapsulated what Celebrity is all about, which is modern luxury, hip, fun, young, and we felt that Le Dîner en Blanc was a great partner to get that word out in a bigger way than we’ve been able to up until now. We feel very special, because Le Dîner en Blanc is very selective about who they partner with, so I think that they feel as strongly about the partnership as we do. We’re very excited about it.”
In Sandy Safic’s words, “I think Le Dîner en Blanc brings people together. It’s very easy for people to come together, enjoy a picnic in the park. That’s basically what it is. It’s just in a beautiful setting, specifically selected, with entertainment. In the end, the essence of it is a picnic in a park. It’s just one big picnic.” A picnic, yes, that recalls the exquisite magnificence of an earlier, enchanted, time.
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