Let There Be White: Inside the NYC Dîner en Blanc

Let There Be White: Inside the NYC Dîner en Blanc

Dîner en Blanc is best described as a flash mob foodie event. Here, Try The World speaks with co-founder Aymeric Pasquier to shed some white—sorry, light!—on the evolution of this unique institution.

“Look for a bunch of white people. No no no—I mean people in white! Oh my gosh. You know what I mean,” was overheard above the usual Manhattan foot traffic on July 28th. One of the attendees rushed as quickly as she could while weighed down with chairs and a picnic basket as her partner hustled along behind with a small table and bags. Step one of Dîner en Blanc (“get to your departure point on time”) was in full effect. It was as if by magic that a flood of New York City’s most dedicated food enthusiasts, all attired in the evening’s dress code of white, assembled at different points of Manhattan flushed with excitement. Well, more so from the heat, but definitely from the excitement, too.

Dîner en Blanc is best described as a flashmob foodie event. It’s a picnic of rather epic proportions, as this year, no less than 5,000 people assembled at Pier 26 on the Hudson River. Waves of people dressed in white descended, beleaguered, but bright eyed, at what they looked forward to as one of the best nights of the summer, if not the year. With a waitlist of over 30,000 individuals, Dîner en Blanc is a highly anticipated event. A spot on the guest list is coveted and entirely dependent on connections, patience, and sometimes luck.

As a table leader and proud, I happily volunteer my time to help run the event in New York. I will, however, be the first to admit that the start of the evening is hectic. Everyone is huffing with their tables, chairs, food, and tableware across subway platforms, stairs, streets—and this year, through the heat—until we arrive at our promised land for the night. For this part of the early evening, we are the sworn enemy of every pedestrian who’s unlucky enough to cross our paths on public transportation.

Upon arrival to the secret destination, it is truly an incredible sight to see thousands come together for a very simple pleasure, and to see the sun set across a sea of white as napkins twirl overhead as the traditional signal for the meal to begin. There is dancing and photographers—even the occasional fool climbing atop railings to get the perfect shot. And I am sure there was not one moment when a photo was not being taken somewhere.

This year, I was happy to be joined by the fellow Try The World team members and co-founders Kat Vorotova and David Foult. Kat and David started the company in 2013 with the mission of putting a country’s culinary culture in a box, thus allowing subscribers to travel to foreign lands through food right at home. For Dîner en Blanc, we kept dinner simple and very traditional, using Try The World’s imported honey, jam, and mustard from the signature Paris Box to accompany local charcuterie and cheese with some summer fruit. It was simple. It was divine. It was… very French.

Dîner en Blanc is a tradition that has grown from its original start in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris to a series of secret dinner parties in iconic, historic, or scenic locations in cities around the world. I had the unique pleasure of speaking with co-­founder of Dîner en Blanc, Aymeric Pasquier, son of the original mastermind Francois Pasquier. Here is a bit of insight on the evolution of Dîner en Blanc.

Dîner en Blanc in such an incredible phenomenon. How did the idea for Dîner en Blanc on a global scale come to life?

The first export of Dîner en Blanc took place seven years ago in Montreal. I knew how much of an effort it was to organize it, but I finally put together the first one in 2008 while having a full-time job. It became an intense success. After three years in Montreal, I did it in NYC and hired one person, Sandy Fafi, who became co­-founder. The New York Times wrote a piece on it, and suddenly everyone knew Dîner en Blanc.

Later, you expanded to New York. What makes Dîner en Blanc in this city so special?

New York is a place that the whole world is staring at it. It is so unique, and after just one edition the whole world knew about Dîner En Blanc. After New York, we got so many requests from all over the world to bring the event to other cities. Dîner en Blanc is at its core a group of friends who invite their friends. There never was any commercial intention, and that is still not a goal of Dîner en Blanc.

Diner en Blanc

© Diego León

Dîner en Blanc is famous for the all-white dress code and secret meeting location. How did this come about?

My father chose white so that all of those coming to the park for the picnic could distinguish each other and know they were part of the group. After three years in the Bois de Boulogne, we began to go to other places. We couldn’t ask the places before arriving, as they would say no to a large group ahead of time, so we kept the venue a secret. This way the authorities couldn’t prevent us from arriving to a public space. It’s another reason we are so well-behaved: they have no reason to shut us down. We come to a location for three to four hours and take all garbage with us, leaving the place exactly as it was.

Do you have any favorite locations that Dîner en Blanc has been to?

Definitely the Place de la Concorde and Les Invalides in Paris. Everyone remembers those nights.

Are there any locations at which you’d love to hold a dinner?

Absolutely, it is a dream to have a Dîner en Blanc at the Statue of Liberty. It would be amazing to have that given that the statue was a gift from France. It would be symbolic, and just amazing, though very hard to do. I also dream about having a Dîner en Blanc in the Red Square in Moscow and the Forbidden City of Shanghai.

Is there anything crazy that’s ever happened at one of the dinners?

We like to say that we have a direct connection with Mother Nature. For all of the years we have held Dîner en Blanc in Montreal and New York City, it hasn’t rained. Even in New York in 2011, with hurricane Irene, the rain actually stopped for a few hours. Also, our first edition in Singapore was unlike any other. We were in the heart of Singapore, there were fireworks, we came by boat, it was very extravagant. All of Singapore was focused on the event. Dîner en Blanc got very famous there. It was a great experience, and my mother and father were there for it as well. The whole city was involved and suddenly there were 30,000 people on the waiting list.

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