On the table at Dîner en Blanc
Diners paid $35 plus a $5 membership fee for the privilege of attending Honolulu's inaugural Dîner en Blanc on Saturday at a secret location that turned out to be 'Iolani Palace, keeping with the global event's tactic of staging the dinners at iconic venues.
It seemed like a daunting task to ask participants to bring their own tables, chairs, linens, dishes, beverages and food. I know many who initially bought tickets, then returned them when they learned all the rules. For that amount of effort, they figured they could just as easily host their own garage or backyard party.
But generally not for 750 people — with 1,400 more on a wait list to attend — and the opportunity to make history, as Jan Kuivenhoven, who flew in from Kailua-Kona to enjoy the evening with her friend Elaine Endo, said.
“This is a piece of history in Honolulu. To be a part of this world event and to be dining with all these folks, how do you get this experience? You don’t. This is so fabulous,” Kuivenhoven said while helping Endo arrange a vase full of her favorite lavender roses.
Malie Moran, better known in fashion than foodie circles, hosted the party with Maleko McDonnell and Aubrey Akana. She wanted to bring the dinner party here after learning about the 25-year-old global event last spring when she was invited to the Los Angeles edition.
“I couldn’t make it, but I loved the idea of bringing it to Hawaii,” she said.
The original Dîner en Blanc was launched in Paris by Francois Pasquier in 1988 as a gathering of friends. They decided to wear white so that they could easily spot one another at the Pont des Arts. Today there are 40 events that take place around the world, and the original Paris event brings together more than 10,000 people annually.
“When you look at pictures of the events, you see the Eiffel Tower and iconic places from cities all over the world. We were so lucky to have Iolani Palace as our venue, the only royal palace in the United States,” Moran said.
In the friends and word-of-mouth only spirit of the original event, promotion of the Honolulu event spread among friends, family and foodies through social media, and the venue was a closely held secret. Bus drivers hired to whisk people from four rendezvous points in Honolulu only learned of the site when they received a text photo at 5:40 p.m. that day.
I couldn't imagine so many people would be willing to lug in all their gear while dressed in white. The worst was having to also bag and cart the trash after the event. Food waste is so gross.
I was lucky to have it easy, with friends who don't like heavy lifting. Curate Decor + Design was enlisted to create our table decor and favors, and our food was catered by chef Shoji Namatane of the Trump International Hotel Waikiki. At $155 per person, we paid more, but it was well worth it to be part of the spectacle without breaking a sweat (save for the day's humidity).
Two-thirds of attendees also paid extra to have their meals created by Hale 'Aina Caterers chef Kanani Lincoln, who made three meal plans available, giving diners such options as Chinese lemon-roasted chicken or pulled five-spice duck confit on ’Nalo baby greens, with a starter charcuterie arrangement.
As for the instigator in all this, Malie never had a chance to sit down to dinner herself.
“I saw old friends, met new friends. I was too excited to eat.”
As for next year, participants are already planning bigger and better centerpieces and meals, Moran said.
“The pressure is on. I would love to do this again next year because the experience has been so amazing. I’m so happy it was so well received and that we could put Hawaii on the map in the Dîner en Blanc family.”
You can see more of the fashion at Dîner en Blanc in my latest Fashion Tribe blog.
Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage appears in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.