An event that started 24 years ago in Paris by a man trying to reunite with his friends in typical Parisian style, Diner en Blanc was brought to Sydney in late October for the very first time.

BY EDWINA STORIE

the event

If you happened to walk past the MCA on Saturday, October 27, you would have seen hundreds of people dressed in white finery, sitting at long white tables holding a huge flash feast amid views to the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. This was the inaugural Sydney Diner en Blanc. You would have been surprised to come across the chic party, and to a degree, so were the attendees themselves, having not known until just moments before they arrived that the MCA front lawn was the destination of their affair.
A lot goes on behind the scenes of a large-scale event. But to keep the most important detail – the venue – a secret until just moments before it kicks off takes things to another level of difficulty. Only nine people knew of the event location for Diner en Blanc during the organisational period. When the day rolled around, much anticipation and speculation had built up. Voluntary leaders met with groups of 20 at meeting points across Sydney and guided them to the secret venue. The elegant attendees were toting tables, chairs, picnic baskets, china and champagne glasses which they set up on the MCA lawn for the pop-up dinner party. Now an international event, Diner en Blanc has been held in locations across the world including New York, Singapore, London and Kenya.
Candles and white daisies adorned the VIP tables, balloons floated from chairs, and flowing white fabric was everywhere. Unusual details added extra interest with a drag queen perched on a tennis chair welcoming guests and graffiti portraits of Julian Assange dotted around. With regards to the drag queen one of the organisers, Antoine Bessis told micenet AUSTRALIA, “Well, it’s Sydney. We had to do it!”
“The Assange portraits were a spontaneous installation by one of the guests. That’s the beauty of participative events; you plan the big strokes and if the concept gels with the guests, it becomes its own thing. I think we achieved that.”
Once all tables had been set up, the entire party waved white napkins in the air creating a dancing sea of white, marking the beginning of the event. And once the sun had set after much eating and merrymaking, guests waved sparklers in the air to mark the beginning of the party and the opening of the dance floor. As the DJ played, a newly wedded couple still wearing their nuptial attire danced together, white roses were exchanged between friends, balloons were released into the air and camera flashes threw glitter over the crowd. At the end of the event at 10.30pm, everyone packed up their things and cleaned up, leaving the space as though nothing had ever happened.

the history

The event started in 1988 when François Pasquier planned to host a dinner party upon his return to Paris to catch up with friends after years overseas. With so many eager to see him, he told everyone to meet at Bois de Boulogne and to dress in white so they could find each other. Herein was the first Diner en Blanc. The event has grown over the years to now be independently hosted in cities around the world.

the rules

Eager attendees register for tickets two weeks before the event with only 1000 to 3000 approved to attend depending on the venue. The waiting list for the New York event reached 30,000. Those who receive approval then buy tickets online and pre-order alcohol and food from the online store, alternatively bringing a packed picnic. Everyone must strictly wear all white and bring a card table of specific dimensions, along with white tablecloths, chairs, plates, cutlery, glasses and garbage bags.

the logistics

Former restaurant owner Antoine Bessis and co-host, John Wilson, of johnandpeter catering, brought the event to Sydney. Bessis explained that keeping the location under wraps during the organisational period was strictly managed. Contractors signed non-disclosure agreements and group leaders responsible for leading the 1400 attendees were told only the day before. “Being a secret and pop-up event allows for the guests to reclaim a public space in their city they would not otherwise be able to use in this spectacular way,” Bessis told micenet AUSTRALIA.
“In turn, passers-by are justifiably surprised and intrigued by the extraordinary sight of thousands of people converging to one location to dine al-fresco. It generates a buzz, people ask questions and want to join in. This is the charm of this event; its spontaneous feel and surprising nature both for the guests and the general public.”
The event was eight months in the making as Bessis and Wilson assessed possible locations and sponsors, with the core of production and logistics conducted two months ahead of the date. “And as with most events, some elements fell into place in the last three weeks prior to our inaugural Diner en Blanc Sydney,” Bessis said.
The event was catered by co-host John Wilson’s catering company johnandpeter. The food was in accordance with the calibre of the event including picnic boxes packed with duck liver parfait, boutique cheeses, chicken roasted in sage and truffle butter, and salted caramel macaroons.
“We had a terrific response from our guests and their inaugural Diner en Blanc Sydney experience,” Bessis said. “The event will grow organically with guests recommending more friends to join the fun. We are looking at hosting 3000 guests in 2013. The location, of course, will be kept secret.”

the verdict

While there are a few crossing Ts and dotting Is to be done for next year, the event was a huge success. It relies on the work of voluntary table leaders to guide the groups of 20 and make the night as effortless and fun as possible, for which a lot of trust comes in. Yet the event was a truly memorable moment. It was an experience like no other in Sydney where a chic crowd gathered together for a polished affair and a lot of fun. Definitely one to grow in style and size for years to come.