Le Diner en Blanc, Virginia style

7 10 2011

We held our first-ever Le Diner en Blanc on Saturday, September 24. The week before the event was a series of very rainy days and the forecast for that day was off and on thunderstorms. I had to make a decision: cancel it or move it indoors. I didn’t want to cancel it because we had four people coming from out of state (Alabama and South Carolina) just for this event! I didn’t want to go to the trouble and expense of picking up the chairs and tables I had reserved, then get started setting up and then get chased indoors by a thunderstorm. Murphy’s Law—it didn’t rain after all, but I had to commit to the indoor scenario and then there was no turning back. And actually, it was pretty humid, so indoors was more comfortable anyway!

What is Le Diner en Blanc?
Le Diner en Blanc originated in Paris more than 20 years ago. Thousands of people all dressed in white arrive at the same time to have a posh picnic in a prestigious Parisian location. This is an invitation-only event (you have to be invited by someone who knows someone) and the location remains a secret until the last minute (although you do know the time and date). You’re told the location once you are on the scheduled coaches to the venue. This year’s event included 6,000 people in the Cour Carrée du Louvre and another 6,000 in front of Notre Dame. The Paris version requires you to bring your own plates, food and drinks—in our version, the plates, main course, dessert crepes and drinks were provided (and potluck contributions were requested).

Le Creperie Central
Sue, Barbara and Wanda set up “Le Creperie Central” the night before the party. Sue had crepe flipping duty while Barbara prepared various mixes Gina had brought back from Paris. Yes, imported from Paris…with instructions in French (hence the look on Barbara’s face in the top right photo). Gina did do a test run and wrote the instructions in English, but there was still some translating to do with the boxes that showed other ingredients were needed (thank goodness for the web!). Sue and Barbara made 90 crepes and Wanda assisted with wax-paper-tearing duty. I was busy trying to create the original outdoor ambiance in three townhouse rooms—not an easy task. All three ladies are wearing t-shirts I ordered with the “Le Diner en Blanc 2011” logo (a chandelier with the Eiffel Tower as the center column) that graphic designer friend Karen B. (who is French-born, by the way) created this summer just for the event.

Rethinking the Ambiance of Paris Indoors
Moving it indoors meant scaling back considerably—no white hanging cardboard chandeliers (beautifully crafted by my friend Karen B.) hanging from the trees, no shabby chic candle-filled bird cages hanging from shepherd’s hooks throughout the garden, no full-scale “Le Creperie” station with an LED-lit floral chandelier over the warming station. No tables set with crisp white linens and the French script and floral linen table runners I had sewn two weeks before, topped off with vintage milk bottles and silver pails filled with white flowers or chocolate-colored glittery 24″ Eiffel Tower replicas created with 3-d puzzles from Michael’s. No LED-lighted floral vines swirling the length of each table. No white satin shrugs around each chair back, fastened with a chocolate-colored Eiffel Tower silhouette.

I did find some inspiration indoors, however. My favorite one was my impromptu napkin “dispenser”—using my woman head planter I crafted a sort of ancient Greek Carmen Miranda of sorts. It was so sculptural that many guests thought it was a decoration and barely made a dent in the napkin inventory! The full-scale outdoor French crepe vendor stand was modified for the kitchen island and it worked well despite the lack of outdoor ambiance. A huge thank you to Margot for photographing the tablescapes and decorations before the party started—I was distracted and didn’t get many shots. I think she did a splendid job! These are all her photos in the collage below.

Copying the French
We did move the party outdoors briefly to capture a group shot of the revelers in their “yes-we-will-wear-white-after-Labor-Day” finery—are my friends the best sports or what? Gotta love them—I certainly do! My friend Michael, who lives just across the courtyard, said that when he walked over he got strange looks from a neighbor passing by (it was after Labor Day, remember). Michael came clad in white jeans, a white oxford shirt, cream tie, and to break up his “ice cream man ensemble,” a black and white leopard belt! Sue finally had an opportunity to wear a bridal headpiece and veil she had bought recently at an antique store. Carmen wore a feather fascinator and Paula wore a beautiful headpiece that belonged to her mother. Paula brought in her potluck contribution and every time someone asked what it was, she replied in her best Julia Child lilt, “Beef Bourguignon!”

Thanks to everyone who participated, wore their best white ensembles, and contributed all those delicious appetizers, cheeses, breads, dips, side dishes, fruit salad, deviled eggs (thanks, Katie!), desserts (don’t you just love Norma’s Eiffel-Tower-sugar-topped brownies above?), and ample bottles of le vin blanc and le vin rosé. And in particular, special thanks to Rob for helping maneuver clutter from one room to another the night before (a huge help); Gina for her delicious French-inspired main chicken dish with potatoes, importing the crepe mixes and French sugar (and doing the crepe pre-testing), loaning her lighted Eiffel Tower sculpture and some other French-related items for decorations, and describing her perfect day in Paris (her favorite city); Karen B. for her huge pot of accompanying ratatouille, designing the party logo, putting together two CDs with French music, laboriously cutting out cardboard chandelier silhouettes, and delivering the party commencement “speech” in French (she was born in Paris); Zinna for her large soda contribution (we still have some set aside for us!); Paula for her well-received Beef Bourguignon main entree contribution (Michael enjoyed the leftovers the next day); Karen W. for punching out a gazillion little pieces of balsa wood parts the night I assembled the four Eiffel tower puzzles (and for bringing munchies to aid the process); Sue, Barbara and Wanda for their wine contribution, crepe fillings and crepe making efforts (and for trekking 10.5 hours from Huntsville, AL to our humble home); my decorating partner, Carmen, for helping me bring some of the outdoor ambiance indoors, her ever-present and much needed organizing and clean-up skills, and for flying in from South Carolina just for the party; our neighbor Eric for setting up his outdoor pavilion for us; Michael P. for assisting me yet again with the indoor party portraits (that posting to come) and for translating Karen’s French speech to English (he’s fluent in several languages!); Martha B. in San Antonio for sending me a lovely serving platter with a sketch of the Eiffel Tower since she couldn’t attend (you were there in spirit…and porcelain, Martha!); and finally, thanks to F.T. for helping with the outdoor shots.

Here’s to Le Diner en Blanc next year…but this time in June (so wearing white is more acceptable!) and crossing fingers—outdoors as originally planned. We’ll do Le Diner en Blanc in June, Pesto Fest in September, and get back on track next year. Next up—the Chocoholic Party in February, as always.


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6 responses

7 10 2011
barbaragarneaukelley

My husband Bill and I were two of the lucky guests. This event gets an A+ rating from Kelley Hospitality. This time I was lucky enough to just be a gracious guest and enjoy the show while all the other worker bees created a spectacular event. (After all, we couldn’t have two “Barbara’s” in the kitchen!) I loved the challenge of wearing all white. I am the one talking to the nice man in red…huh? I think he got a pass because he helped set up the night before. Bill came in what everyone called “Gatsby.” — White shirt, khaki pants, khaki tie, and white boater shoes. Cindy knows hospitality — she prepares ahead with all her heart and soul and although weather tried to discourage her, she kept right on! Thank you. I enjoyed being your guest.
http://www.barbaragarneaukelley.com (shameless plug)

7 10 2011
Eleanor Shoemaker

What a creative way to entertain! Fun, fun, fun

10 10 2011
sue

Oh, to experience a party such as this — what fun it was! It was so neat seeing everyone in white and all the dishes in white too. The food, the friends, the sparklers, the fun — a memory made that will last forever. Thank you, Cindy, for being the incredibly creative spirit that you are!

13 10 2011
RedheadedWoman

What a great fun party. Thanks girlfriend!

13 10 2011
thatgirlwhit

what a shame it couldn’t be outdoors! but it still looks like it went over very very well….everything looked fantastic!

18 10 2011
Greta Maria

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