Its origins are Parisian (the name means “dinner in white”), but this flash-mob, pop-up dinner party for thousands is becoming a worldwide phenomenon. Just this August, 1,000 individuals were lucky to attend the Dîner en Blanc event in Chicago and 1,150 had tickets for the event in New York (though an additional 1,800 were charged for 200 open spots).
Dressed all in white, guests toted their own tables and chairs (of a specified dimension), glassware, silverware, and white table linens via public transportation to the site. Wine was to be ordered in advance, but guests were free to bring their own picnic, if they wished. The revelry lasted until late in the evening; mere hours later, the area at Broadway and Dey appeared as if nothing had ever taken place.
Surely, you’ve dined alone, in the dark, over the kitchen sink, in your birthday suit. But imagine being seated at a table, surrounded by strangers or better (worse?) — friends — with two gentlemen on each side, a woman across from you, and roast chicken on your plate in front of you. Oh, and only a hand towel to sit on.
For Arianne Cohen, it was enough for her to lose her appetite altogether. “We’re not out to shock or put on a public spectacle,” says John Ordover, a nudist who regularly plans dinner parties at restaurants in New York City. “We want only to do things that other people do in the way that we are most comfortable doing them. That, for us, is without clothes.” OK, just as long as no one says “lookin’ good…”
It’s the first extreme — and highest ever — dinner party to make its way into the Guinness Book of World Records. Organized by Charles Darwin’s great-great-grandson and a group of (crazy?) Australians, nine mountaineers (only two with previous experience) summited Huascaran, one of the most dangerous peaks in Peru for the event, which took place in sub-30 degree temperatures. The entire tale of the nearly deadly, certainly crazy event is documented in Darwin’s tale The Social Climbers.
Just this spring, a select few New Yorkers purchased $100 tickets (though some were lucky enough to literally walk into the “dining” car and snag a spot) for a moving midday meal featuring foie gras on brioche and filet mignon on one Brooklyn-bound L train. While food and drink might be banned on the subway, it didn’t stop this crowd, where each stop brought a new course for the nearly 50 diners.
New York isn’t the first to hop on the underground dinner party train, either. It’s been done on a London tube train, as well. While New York’s meal featured a pre-set guest list and specially-designed tables, London’s dinner on the Jubilee line boasted real tables, china plates, and red wine, of course.
Hosting a dinner party for eight is difficult enough. But imagine the challenges that artists Mary Ellen Carroll and Donna Wingate faced when planning an elegant dinner party under the metal scaffolding at the then future home of Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art for eight fellow artists.
The meal was quite an accomplishment, given that they began with only two space heaters, nothing to block the wind, and packing crates stacked just so to create makeshift countertops for cooking. While one guest initially feared a meal of raw liver, all worries were allayed as guests were presented with dishes like a creamy butternut squash risotto topped with crisp pancetta and an oyster and salsify chowder with bacon and cayenne.
As if eating or drinking underwater wasn’t challenging enough (After all, how do you pour wine of out a bottle, submerged in a 25-meter swimming pool?), a London health club director decided to up the ante and led a group of over 500 Brits (down from 2,500) in what was hoped to be the world’s largest underwater dinner party.
Guests arrived in full evening dress and were equipped with weight belts and snorkels to make the experience just a bit more comfortable. Tempted with a mouthwatering, three-course luncheon menu, guests, however, were instead in for a surprise. Each course, be it smoked salmon or a medley of crab with asparagus, consisted of a one bite portion enrobed in gelatin. Perfect if you’re watching your waistline... or have a tendency to spill on yourself.
A dash of Tabasco that tastes like doughnut glaze?
For most of us, the thought of eating a lemon wedge or downing dill pickle after dill pickle (and drinking the vinegary juice) is akin to nails on a chalkboard. No thanks. But armed with a pill made from the miracle berry (Synsepalum dulcificum), foods that are ordinarily inedible alone, like Tabasco, take on a new life as something delightfully sweet and delicious.
The pills’ promise of turning sour into sweet was enough to send food bloggers around the world rushing to obtain these little miracle pills for a flavor trip of unparalleled proportions. Armed with platters of citrus, goat cheese, tomatillos, pickles, and beverages like IPAs and sherry, diners use the parties to experiment with unlikely combinations. Consider the combination of lemon sorbet and Guinness. Gross? It’s just like a chocolate shake, according to one tripper.
Some consider the chance to simply spot an iceberg a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Enjoying a lunch on an iceberg floating in the middle of the sea is wholly different, but it’s exactly what South African sailor Mike Horn sought to do on this hunk of ice off of Greenland (and again in Antarctica). And no detail was spared — be it the proper silverware, napkins rolled and secured with napkin rings, or elegantly printed menu. And, of course, the Champagne flowed freely.
If visions of dining atop mountains or the Burj Kalifa in Dubai come to mind, think again. This sky-high dinner isn’t served on solid ground, but about 180 feet up (18 stories), in mid-air. (The secret trick? A special crane that lifts the table.)
At each Dinner in the Sky event, groups of 22 people take are seated around the table while a team of five prepares the multi-course feast right in front of you. And if dining while suspended in mid-air isn’t enough to warrant an unforgettable meal, consider some of the big names who’ve led the team in the “kitchen” to date, like Pierre Gagnaire, Hung Huynh, and Joel Robuchon, or the addition of a band suspended nearby for entertainment. It's a stylish affair, too, with proper place settings, dishes like filet mignon or prosciutto-stuffed chicken, and plenty of Champagne. Just keep ahold of your fork — you wouldn’t want it to fall to the ground.
Some would consider cooking on a beach extreme — with the tide, wind, and blowing sand to deal with. But what if your location is only accessible at low tide?
It’s just the kind of adventure that Jim Denevan, founder of the roving dinner party-cum-restaurant adventure Outstanding in the Field, starts up every summer. While some dinners are set in friendly locations like farms or vineyards (above), Denevan routinely seeks to raise the bar, placing guests closer to the source of their food. And that just might mean trekking in tables, glassware, and over 80 guests along a mile-long length of beach just to have dinner in a sea cave, or hosting 100 for a dinner on a Skagit River isthmus that turned into an island at high tide.