When I had read – and heard from friends – about last year’s Dîner En Blanc test-run at the Distillery, I was sad to have missed out on all the fun. So when I was invited to go this year, I jumped at the chance. Despite some trepidation on the logistics, I eagerly committed and promptly pushed all concerns out of my mind. Until we got the email detailing exactly – and I do mean exactly – what to bring. A table (between 28”x28” and 32”x32), 2 chairs, napkins, table cloths, plates, garbage bag – all in white of course – silverware, wine glasses, water glasses (no paper or plastic!), oh, and don’t forget your 3-course meal. On a Thursday. Right after work (whine).
It didn’t help that I was three weeks (of four) into a huge project at work where I wrote off nearly all thoughts of socializing and free-time (you may have noticed that I haven’t posted in ages). I hadn’t given Dîner En Blanc a thought in the weeks beforehand and - two days before the event – I started to panic about what to bring for dinner. I needed to keep things simple. Needed to stick to things I knew how to make. And try not to bring too much because we had to haul so much already (whine, whine).
The day of Dîner En Blanc dawned and the skies were grey and the ground wet. Throughout the afternoon, rain would fall on and off. Still, we held hope for a dry evening. After a panicked rush to pack all my goods, I trundled downtown on the TTC to Museum station. I made my way up the steps to ground level and I got my first real taste of DEB activity; in front of the ROM’s East entrance, a genteel group of white-clad people milled about in the light rain. Bags and baskets were clutched in one hand and umbrellas (in the requisite clear or white) were up in the other. I was a rebel (among others) and sported a green umbrella. At least I was not singled out for it.
There was a fair wait (gripe) before our busses finally arrived and could be boarded. Our ultimate destination was still kept secret from us, but you could spoil the surprise easily by paying attention to Twitter. I managed to keep my ignorance since I was trying to preserve the battery on my phone and left well enough alone. On our ride, we spied streams of more people in while, clutching their tables and bags and baskets walking their way toward the meeting point: Fort York.
On-site at last, we descended from the bus, and collected our tables and chairs from the hold. We were a damp and white stream of bodies moving past other established groups, to finally begin set up of Row A. Tables came out, table clothes went down, and slowly, you could see things coming together: table settings were laid with care, centre pieces set out for some ambiance, and I envied the large patio umbrellas for those savvy enough to bring them.
All I had for respite from the spitting rain was my dollar-store poncho (in clear!) and a small hand-held umbrella. Propped on its side on the table, the umbrella provided some cover for our nibbles. To begin, I laid out some cheeses and olives from Leslieville Cheese Market. I had their delicious gypsy salami to supplement the spread. Our first course ready, we sat patiently, sneaking some bites, as we waited for the signal to start. A little more waiting. A few more bites.
The jazzy tunes from the excellent band helped to make things lively. Sadly, we were right in front of the stage, making things louder than I wanted it to be and it only added to my state of discontent.
As the last tables finished their set up, we finally saw the white napkins go up, rotating wildly in the air, and joined in the motion. Champagne was poured, glasses were clinked, and we began dinner.
About half way through other people’s meals, I gasped. I got so caught up in the start of things, that I forgot I had the rest of the meal waiting; a simple corn salad (it’s in season) and some garlic & sesame chicken I grilled on the BBQ before leaving (tasty and easy)… and that would make three courses with the cheese! Easy!
But I kept pulling things out of my bags: rice (still warm!), freshly washed lettuce (why did I bother to dry it!?), and condiments of (fresh Ontario) garlic, hot peppers, kimchi, and sauces. Because (if you haven’t guessed by now) I also made a baby bo ssam (Dave Chang/momofuku style) pork roast. And you know, I’ll just bring my mini torchière (I wasn’t the first!) so I could caramelize the crust at the table. Oh yes, I managed to keep things really simple.
By the time I’d started to pull out the rest of the food, the rain had (thankfully) stopped. And it was around this time that I really could forget how much work things had been and how bothersome it all was and just enjoy the beauty of it all. Because all my whining (and there was a lot) aside, this sea of white and light was really a lovely thing to see.
As dusk began to fade into night, people began milling about and dancing to the music. And the music! Over the course of the evening, we heard classical compositions, opera, and contemporary tunes – and they were all pretty fantastic. I did, however, have to roll my eyes when I caught the familiar strains of Édith Piaf’s La Vie En Rose from the pre-set play list. But all the carefree and comfortable camaraderie that had built over the course of the evening was culminating into an exuberant festive display. At 9:30, the sparklers handed out earlier were lit up and casted a warm glow across the field and the uplifted faces of the crowd. You could see the glow from all the cell phones adding to the sea of light as people captured the moment.
After a little dancing and some photos, the night was winding down and we started to pack away our things. This was less an event for the food-minded and more a celebration of style and society. It is only the memory of my food-styling failings that drives me to even consider participating next year. It really was worth seeing and experiencing at least once, despite the hassle. There were so many factors (rain aside) that piled on to make things less than optimal: after work, work the next day, hauling/packing everything, waiting for the bus… I imagine I would have enjoyed things so much more if I didn’t have to contend with all those details. Still, walking away from the magical scene was hard – there was the sense of wanting to prolong the evening, but after a long day, sleep was the stronger allure.
Friends & Tablemates’ Reports
- Diner En Blanc on TorontoLife.com (My hand! My torch! My bo ssam!)
- Zeekid’s Blog & Photos (More of my torch. It was popular.)
- Renée’s Photos (Ditto.)
- Taku’s Photos (Eventually!)
- Peter (Just his food forum)