Dîner en Blanc may be best known for its ability to transform a public space into a sea of inexplicable white—and the must-see fashions that come with it—but as half of its name suggests, the affair is really about the grub.
“It’s a food-based event, first and foremost,” says Tyson Villeneuve, partner at the Social Concierge—the event-planning agency organizing Vancouver’s rendition of the all-white function—during a phone interview with the Straight. “People bring their own tables and chairs and they can literally dine however they would like to dine.”
Originating in Paris almost 30 years ago, Dîner en Blanc is an invite-only, pop-up picnic with a surprise location that is revealed no more than an hour before mealtime. Attendees are required to dress head to toe in white, and every pair of guests must bring a foldable table, two white chairs, a white tablecloth, and dinner settings, as well as fare to share.
Since its inception in the City of Light, the event has been adopted by locales around the globe, including New York, Singapore, and Brisbane, each of which hosts its own version every summer. Taking place next Thursday (August 18), Vancouver’s fifth Dîner en Blanc is set to be the biggest one yet and the largest public dinner party to date in the country.
If you were lucky enough to nab one of 6,000 invitations as a first-timer—the event includes a three-step registration process and a wait list that relies heavily on who you know—you probably have a few questions. Namely, what kind of food should I be preparing?
“It’s a fanciful dinner, so you can bring whatever you like,” stresses Villeneuve, “but the idea is that you make that little extra effort.”
The “gourmet meal” recommended on Dîner en Blanc’s official website, therefore, is up to each guest’s interpretation. There are also catered, three-course meal options, starting at $46, that can be purchased in advance online. In his five years of organizing and attending the gala, however, Villeneuve reveals he’s seen cuisine of all types, from burgers and fries to monochromatic entrées of seared white fish and parsnips on rice.
Yes, fast food—and takeout, for that matter—is allowed. But the fun of Dîner en Blanc lies in taking the everyday up a notch. Think charcuterie platters loaded with various meats, cheeses, and spreads, or fig-and-prosciutto sandwiches paired with a light summer salad. “Pretend you’re hosting a dinner party for friends,” says Villeneuve. “What would you want to serve them?”
If you’re opting for a home-cooked meal, the Dîner en Blanc vet suggests sticking to something you’re familiar with. Know your way around the kitchen when it comes to a killer vegan lasagna? Knock Anthony Bourdain’s recipe for duck à l’orange out of the park every time? Unless you’re a culinary whiz, try preparing a dish you’ve previously mastered to keep stress to a minimum on the day of the dinner.
Keep in mind that you’ll also be transporting your meal a reasonable distance, so it’s important to bring something that will carry well. (Once the secret location is announced, attendees may meet at one of 17 departure points, where a bus will take them to their destination. Often, some walking is involved.) Since you’ll be in a public space—with no microwaves or ovens—your dish should ideally be enjoyable cold, too.
“Depending on the type of container that you put it in and how you prep the meal, how it carries can make it completely different from what it tastes and looks like at home,” notes Villeneuve.
As for beverages, Dîner en Blanc Vancouver follows the Parisian protocol by allowing only wine and Champagne. Due to B.C. liquor laws, guests are prohibited from bringing alcohol on-site and must purchase bottles of red, white, or rosé in advance through the gala’s online shop. Complimentary still and sparkling water will be available to all attendees.
And while all chairs and plates must be white, exceptions are made for portable tables and cutlery. (Tables will be covered in a white linen cloth, which diners must provide for themselves.) Glassware is recommended for drinks—absolutely no paper or plastic tableware is allowed. Pack a couple of garbage bags, too: the “hyper-sustainable” event requires all attendees to clean up after themselves in order to leave the space spotless.
Guests are welcome to go over-the-top with table décor by accessorizing with crystal candelabras, fresh white flowers, and DIY centrepieces, for example. But whether it’s the food or dinner accessories, the key is to think outside the box. After all, when else will you have the opportunity to dine dressed to the nines in white with 5,999 other people?
“I always find the more creative, the better,” says Villeneuve. “It’s an event where people love checking out what other people are eating. It’s like a food-Instagram-heaven kind of thing.”