An experience is what you make of it. Being a part of Toronto’s 3rd edition of Dîner en Blanc last night confirmed that sentiment. A secret location hosting thousands of revellers dressed in head to toe all white finery and feasting on elegantly prepared picnic sounds like a formula for logistical nightmare or merrymaking. It all depends on your attitude. Weeks of anticipation and promises of an exclusive elegant affair were accompanied by strict rules in pompous air. I chose to enjoy the special evening to its fullest as did my three dining companions.
The exclusivity part was no joke. Invitations were sent out in three phases with priorities given to past participants. Luckily, JC (of foodpr0n) attended last year and she graciously added my name to the referral list so our group of four was confirmed early on. I began to plan in earnest and even created a Pinterest board for two potential menus, outfits, and other miscellaneous items to pack for the picnic. I shopped for light portable table and chairs. And even laid out my outfit and the table setting to make sure everything looked great.
I don’t mean to brag but picnic and dining al fresco in unusual locations are my forte. The meal has to taste phenomenal, that’s a given. But more importantly, I give a lot of thoughts into mobility and efficiency. Duplicate effort? Pffft! Working with three other companions we were able to streamline the process. Divide and conquer was our key to a stress-free experience. Let’s take a look at our menu for four:
Dîner En Blanc
That menu would have been complicate for one person to cook and transport to the secret location. But with EY, myself, and JC each prepared one part of the three-course dinner, we pulled it off with grace and great taste. JC treated us to so many goodies from her recent trip to San Francisco she made me jealous of her culinary adventure. EY set the tone with a refreshing take on chilled white gazpacho with bursts of sweetness from green grapes garnish. I turned to a tried-and-true swordfish main course I recently made from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table. JC sweetly concluded our menu with Nutter Butters cookies. Check out RS's pretty photos of the dishes (main course, dessert) and the event!
Our pedestrian group rendez-vous at Yonge & Lawrence promptly at 6:15. The temperature was balmy and we sweated buckets just standing around. I looked around at our fellow picnickers and felt a bit smug about our light luggage. Between the four of us, we had only four chairs, an aluminum camping table large enough for four, three bags, and one picnic basket to carry. I vetoed using luggage trolley early on because it is unwieldy to navigate subway station stairs and variable city terrain. Though light-weight, those folding chairs certainly were awkward to carry around. Behold one of my brilliant ideas!
While others struggled with their carts and trolleys, our group walked, climbed stairs, and rode the subway with ease. Our group leader gave us just enough directions to reach the next meeting point and we couldn’t stop guessing at the secret location. In previous years, the event was held at Distillery District and Fort York, two of the most prestigious and picturesque locations in the city. When we finally saw the event balloon hovering over a parking lot at Queen & Sherbourne surrounded by historical buildings and pawn shops, it was…anti-climatic.
But we were determined to have a great time so we put aside our disappointment over the underwhelming location. As one of the last groups to arrive on site, we had but a few minutes to settle in before the waving of napkins signalled the beginning of dinner.
The sea of white outfits and white tables was visually striking. Performers wandered between the aisles while we dined on our superb homemade meal. Our neighbour diners chose to purchase their dinner from the event caterer. I can’t say I was jealous. As we moved from appetizer to main course to dessert, dusk turned to night and it was time to light the sparklers. With Katy Perry’s “Firework” playing in the background, the parking lot lit up in beautiful light.
Dancing, music, and great company concluded my first picnic with Dîner En Blanc. It was a special evening and I would return next year in a heartbeat. Even with all the logistical challenges and letdowns, it was an one of a kind experience. And about that parking lot? Two words: no bugs. What you experience is what you make of it.
(photos also courtesy of Jen Chan and Edythe Yee)