Dîner en Blanc in Baltimore: My Pop-up Dinner Journey
People often say, “it is not the destination; it is about the journey.” That is the best way to describe my Dîner en Blanc experience. Last weekend I had the honor, along with 300+ other people, to attend Baltimore’s first Dîner en Blanc.
Dîner en Blanc is translated white dinner. It is an invite-only, secret party that started in 1988. The first dinner started by François Pasquier was a picnic at the Bois de Boulogne. He invited a few friends who wore all white. The following year they each invited a friend, and the tradition continued. The picnic grew organically to hundreds of people. Fast forward to 2017, several cities around the world host Dîner en Blanc and Baltimore hosted it’s first July 15.
My invitation was extended to me by my dear friend Kimberleigh. In the tradition of the dinner, the attendee can only bring one guest. I was Kimberleigh’s plus one. There is a high demand for tickets. The allure of the secrecy, the exclusivity, or the celebration of French culture may explain the demand. The location is still held in secret until minutes before the dinner. Previous attendees are invited and potential attendees place their name in a lottery to be selected.
All white is not limited to your attire. The tables, chairs and décor must be white. This is where my journey begins. Kimberleigh sent me a list of do’s for this dinner. Compliance with the rules is strongly encouraged and expected. The dinner is a pop-up dinner. Meaning, there is nothing at the location…no tables, no chairs, no lighting, no nothing. You must bring everything. You are given the option to rent your equipment. Renting … I laugh at renting. A true DIY’er never rents (also I am cheap).
The Dîner en Blanc organizers are very specific about what you can bring. The table must be white in appearance, either a white table or cover the table with a white table cloth. Your table must by 28’ x28’ or 32’ x32’. They are aligned side by side to give the allusion of one long dinner table. Amazon, the online superstore, capitalizes on the dinner specificity. They have a “Diner en Blanc at Amazon” page. You can purchase everything from Amazon. Remember, I’m cheap. I will use what I have. I have the table and white table cloth …success. But, I only have black folding chairs …ugh. What if I spray paint the black chairs… brilliant!
Two days before the event I attempt to make my noir chairs blanc. Early morning, 7 am to be exact, I started spray painting. A curious visitor paid me a visit while I was priming the chairs. A bee was buzzing around and stung me. The visitor stung me on my right ear lobe. It was painful. I stopped to ice my ear but I had to complete my project. Four coats of paint later, I finished and my ear started to swell. As the day went on my right side of my face and neck began to balloon. My day ended with a midnight visit to urgent care. The doctor instructed me to take Benadryl every four hours and come back the next day.
During our many planning sessions, Kimberleigh and I decided to purchase wine but not the food offered by the organizers. We would bring our own picnic. We planned multiple courses. Cheese and charcuterie, salad, main course, and dessert. In my Benadryl haze the day of the event, I went grocery shopping and prepared the food assigned to me.
A few hours before the event, everything was packed and ready to go. I purchased a trolley cart, earlier, to transport our portable picnic. We were instructed that we should be prepared to walk between five to 10 minutes to our secret location. We needed to be nimble. Kimberleigh had items in addition to mine. She is extremely creative and designed our table décor to include plates and stemware. NO PLASTIC plates or cups were allowed.
Concerned about driving to Baltimore from Bowie in my cotton mouth, swollen face, Benadryl haze, I hired a Lyft. (The smartest decision I made all day.) You are probably wondering why did I still go. I was vested … financially and emotionally. I had to see this through.
The Baltimore Visitor’s Center was the meeting point where we would meet our table leader, table mates and board the charter bus. A charter bus would take us to the secret location. The table leader was responsible for herding the group and successfully getting us to our table location. We were sent instructions to be on time or we would be left. No exceptions!!! Our table leader was tardy by 20 minutes. Not to worry, we did not leave her because our bus was 40 minutes late.
The sun started to set when we finally boarded the bus. Curiosity was killing me. Where are we going? BALTIMORE ZOO. The Zoo was the secret venue. There were at least 20 buses already there when we arrived. This event was huge. We frantically unloaded and march towards our assigned location.
It was dark by this time. Lighting was limited. We had to bring LED lights for our table. Only light from tables already setup was available to help us traverse the path. We pulled our trolley in the dark avoiding tree roots and other natural implements.
Finally, we made it. We set up our table with the precision of Patton’s army. The dinner had official begun with the waving of the napkins while we were setting up. It was disappointing to miss some of the fanfare. However, when we were finally settled in it was magical.
Hard to imagine with hundreds of people in attendance that an intimate setting was created but it was. It was beautiful. Everyone was gorgeous dressed in all white. So many inspired and creative tables were on parade. The music was fantastic. A marching band got the crowd moving. Of course, the best part was spending time with my friend and making new friends.
I am glad I did not give up at first sting. Would I do it again? Not really. I am happy I had the experience and could be among the first. I learned I am not a pop-up dinner person. If you are up for the journey, I encourage you to attend.