A Parisian tradition shared across the globe. An event well-known, but its location a secret. Waves of guests dressed beautifully in white and ribbon dancers twirling through the park. One could not dream of a more magical night. This is Le Dîner en Blanc.
Le Dîner en Blanc: What Is It?
Ok, picture this: thousands of guests, dressed elegantly in all white, waiting patiently for the reveal of the secret location for Le Dîner en Blanc that year, just minutes prior to the event. The result: a massive ritzy picnic in a public space that allows guests to experience the beauty of their city and embrace the unexpected. Inspired by the elegance and glamour of high French society, guests are brought together from diverse backgrounds to truly take part in a magical experience in the heart of one of their city’s most beautiful locations.
Le Dîner en Blanc: How It All Started
In 1988 Paris, the first Le Dîner en Blanc was organized by François Pasquier. After returning from an adventure abroad, Pasquier organized a picnic to reconnect with a handful of old friends. Simply a result of having a garden too small to accommodate his number of guests, Pasquier invited his friends to meet at the Bois de Boulogne, dressed all in white in order to easily locate one another. The concept was simple: “Bring a meal, and bring a new friend.”
Le Dîner en Blanc Now: An International Gathering
Now, nearly 30 years later, Le Dîner en Blanc tradition has continued to bring together over 10,000 friends of friends in Paris every year. Since the first event in 1988, some of the capital’s most famed & influential sites have played host over the years, including Château de Versailles, Champs-Élysées, Le Louvre Pyramid, and of course, the Eiffel Tower.
In 2009, one of François Pasquier’s four sons, Aymeric, introduced the concept of Le Dîner en Blanc to Montreal, Canada (woohoo!) before eventually making its New York debut in 2011. Thanks to Aymeric, now President of Dîner en Blanc International Inc., the event’s presence has grown internationally to over 70 cities, with a record of 15,000 people attending the 25th anniversary in 2013. And where’s François Pasquier now you may ask? Well, Pasquier continues to organize the Parisian Dîner en Blanc with those same friends he sat down with in 1988!
Le Dîner en Blanc 2017 (Toronto)
This year was Toronto’s 6th edition of Le Dîner en Blanc and with over 2,500 guests, it was even more enchanting than I had ever dreamed. In addition to the whimsical carousels, swan-like ribbon dancers, and parties of guests dressed elegantly in all white, there is something about this event that just speaks to the spirit of Toronto in a way that made it unforgettable. With the clouds rumbling and rain pattering onto the cement floor, the weather was not looking in our favour that night. Yet, most guests sucked it up, opened up their clear umbrellas & ponchos, and made their way to the meeting point. Over and over again, guests were offered an alternative: stay at home, eat on the chartered bus, go to a nice restaurant, etc.; but over and over again, guests buckled down and stayed loyal to the rain or shine event.
It wasn’t just our resilience that impressed me but also the amount of kindness fellow guests showed to complete strangers during the entire Dîner en Blanc event. Left, right, and center I would find guests sharing food, offering their help in carrying tables & chairs, and sheltering those who forgot their umbrellas. The whole concept of Dîner en Blanc is to catch up with old friends and to make new ones, and I have to say that I experienced that from beginning to end. What I witnessed that day not only reflected the true nature and concept of Le Dîner en Blanc, but also the heart of the city. There was this sense of camaraderie and unity that made me proud to call myself a Torontonian.
Where to go
In previous years, this fabulous event has taken place in some of the most iconic sites in Toronto, such as the Distillery District, Echo Beach, and Fort York. This year’s secret venue? Canoe’s Landing, an 8 acre privately funded urban park located right in the heart of downtown Toronto.
Now when it comes to transportation for Dîner en Blanc, guests have the option to arrive via chartered bus ($40) or organized public transit ($35). While travelling through public transit would add to the magic of the evening, we just couldn’t justify lugging the table, the chairs, the picnic basket, and the bags through the busy streets of Toronto all while still needing to pay for the $3.35 TTC fare (x2 for a round trip) on top of the $35. So when it comes down to it, it makes much more cents (HA! You see what I did there?) to go with the chartered bus both in terms of cost and practicality.
What to wear
There are so many variations of white: egg-shell, ivory, champagne, cream – the list goes on and on. So when it comes to finding the appropriate attire for Le Dîner en Blanc, it should be fairly easy, right? WRONG.
It is precisely because of the many variations of white that the event organizers limit guests to only wearing pure white. Without any comparison point, it’s difficult to define what a pure white is. Even with a comparison, other factors such as the amount of light or even the type of light can alter one’s perception of the shade. So how do you really know? Well, I don’t have the perfect solution but I do have a fairly simple one: compare it to a sheet of paper. Yes, I know it may seem silly, and yes, you will definitely get some strange looks while you’re out shopping, BUT a sheet of printing paper is probably the most reliable comparison point. Try to get your shopping done early too, if you can. Finding an all-(pure)white outfit is harder than it seems, so start shopping when most stores have white clothing, so in the Spring or Summer months.
Now, Le Dîner en Blanc isn’t just about wearing white from head-to-toe; it’s about embracing the elegance, creativity, and spirit of the Parisian event. It’s about the pearls, the feathers, and the tulle. It’s about going that extra mile to look just as extravagant as the event itself. Dressed like billionaires and Marie Antoinette, guests really stepped up their fashion game that night. But with a prize package valued at over $250 each for the best dressed male and female, who could blame them? So rather than playing it safe, try grabbing some unique accessories from a vintage shop or costume store, like I did!
What to eat
Le Dîner en Blanc is probably like the fanciest picnic anyone will ever attend, so the dishes that land on the menu are just as important as what shoes land on your feet. Now guests do have the option to purchase a 3-course picnic meal & wine (no outside alcohol or hard liquor permitted), but obviously someone like myself would rather show off my culinary prowess!
Staying loyal to the event’s set menus, I prepared a charcuterie board for our starter: prosciutto, salamis, figs, pear, brie, gouda, manchego, and of course, french baquette. I had planned to include a peach-bourbon preserve as well, but unfortunately forgot to bring it. On the bright side, the platter was diverse enough to still make for a delicious charcuterie board!
As for our second course, I prepared something similar to my Fried Goat Cheese & Rapunzel Salad, sans the pecans and swapping out the rapunzel for arugula and the goat cheese for feta. This is probably my favourite salad for the summer months because the strawberries are so incredibly sweet and juicy during this time of year. Plus, with an olive oil-balsamic vinegar dressing base, this salad remains to be fresh and light – perfect for the hot, summer weather.
Now it may be important for me to note that I always had an issue with eating dishes cold when they are meant to be eaten hot, such as pizza, pasta, and 99% of Chinese food. So when it came to our third course, I decided to make a chicken pesto pasta dish because the freshness of the sauce makes it more agreeable with my stomach, cold or hot. Unfortunately, we barely got to enjoy our third course and never got around to dessert because of the pouring rain, but I have to say it truly added to l’expérience.
Until next year!
Obvious to say, this year’s Le Dîner en Blanc Toronto was a complete success! We danced in the rain, ate (most of) a three-course meal, and made new friendships along the way. I, for one, definitely hope to attend this enchanting event again next year, in 2018.
Want an invite? Of course you do! Unless you’re invited or sponsored by someone already in the event’s network, sign up to be on the waiting list for Le Dîner en Blanc in your city. It may seem like a long shot but my best friend managed to get an invite in less than a year.
But until next time, à votre santé!