About four years ago, my husband and I attended a charity dinner in town called Project Dinner Table. It was the first long table dinner I had ever attended and I’ve been obsessed with hosting one ever since. There is something about being seated at a dinner party with 100 other people that stirs my imagination in a profound way. It isn’t just the food; it is the communal experience– a feeling of being a part of something really special and really BIG.
Last weekend after about 8 weeks of planning and cooking for what seemed to be forever, I was finally able to make that long table dinner party dream a reality and hosted my very first FEED Supper. It was an incredible experience, combining the things that I enjoy the most: feeding a lot of people, eating great food, and making a difference!
Each year, beginning on September 16 and culminating on World Food Day, October 16, hosts around the globe join together to “truly share a meal” with their dinner guests. The premise is so simple: host a supper and ask your dinner guests to donate meals to the FEED Foundation in lieu of bringing a bottle of wine. 100% of the proceeds raised during a FEED Supper goes to provide meals to children and families facing food insecurity.
This year, FEED Suppers adopted a global theme and hosts were able target specific regions around the globe to which they could give: the USA, India, Mexico and Ghana. I invited 22 friends to gather on October 22, 2016 to share a meal with our fellow Americans who may not know where their next meal is coming from. Everything about this dinner was an amazing success and we raised enough money to provide over 8000 meals through the Feed Foundation and their giving partners!
Signature Cocktail: Spiced Pear Collins
Butternut Squash with Dungeness Crab Relish
Fennel and Orange Salad with Anchovy Vinaigrette
Homemade Potato Gnocchi with Oxtail Ragu and Horseradish Crumbs
Kabocha Squash Panna Cotta with Poached Persimmons and Pomegranate
Take Home Gift
Balsamic Pickled Cipolline Onions
It was important to me to cater this dinner myself, because that’s what I love to do. I was committed to choosing dishes that featured seasonal produce and that I could make ahead of time. I am especially grateful to Melissa’s Produce, who generously donated most of the fresh fruits and vegetables that were used to make this dinner. They were amazing to work with and I cannot recommend their produce enough–everything was so fresh and beautiful!
This dinner taught me so many things. Over the past 6 weeks, I learned how to make homemade gnocchi; tested and re-tested recipes; canned 9 pounds of cipolline onions; tested cocktail recipes (I am not complaining about that at all) and braised close to 18 pounds of oxtail!
In order to keep myself from feeling overwhelmed by the thought of cooking for so many people, I adopted the mantra of “3×8”. The thought of cooking a sit-down dinner for 24 people would have sent me trembling to the back corner of my kitchen, but dinner for 8 is no problem. So, I focused on cooking dinner for 8, three times.
I learned how to be “in the moment” and to enjoy the process. I am a results person. I delight in the finished product–the quintessential “are we there yet?” kid. Learning to enjoy the weeks of preparation in order to get to the big payoff was huge for me. There were so many times I thought “this is crazy; why am I doing this? and “oh my god I’m going to crash and burn”, but then I found the calm in simply doing the tasks at hand. I grew to enjoy shaping gnocchi by hand, over and over again…for weeks. I’ll be sharing that recipe and process with you in the weeks to come and trust me, it can be quite meditative!
I think the most important personal growth lesson in all of this was learning to put my inner perfectionist on the back burner. So many things didn’t come out “perfectly”–things that were out of my control and things I could have done differently. For instance, I thought, being late October, that it would be cool, autumn weather. I pictured sweaters and boots, a fire in the fire pit. I even bought a bunch of cozy throw blankets for the occasion. Nope. It was 90 degrees that afternoon. I had to let that vision disappear so that the reality (which was still really good) could coalesce. It turns out the weather was perfect for our dinner–there was no wind and the temperature cooled to a reasonable 80 degrees once the sun set. 24 hours later, a storm blew in with high winds and rain!
The first course, the butternut squash puree, was a bit of a failure in terms of plating and presentation, but it tasted great.
Because it took me so long to set the table, I barely had enough time to run home, shower and get ready. So…my hair looks like it was styled by squirrels!
But then there were the perfect moments: like, my husband who worked the bar like nobody’s business! I caught a glimpse of him from across the yard, shaking cocktails like a pro and holding court with our guests and I was just blown away and so in love!
While I was at home getting ready, my friends all pitched in and finished setting the table, put the finishing touches on the appetizers and lit the candles.
My friends Adam, Shawn, Cher, Virginia, Sandra and Terrence all had a hand in creating the tiny details and magic moments that make a dinner party feel complete. My friend Cher kept me organized in the kitchen and kept me from forgetting Every. Single. Thing. I have since decided that I need her with me 24/7 telling me what to do and keeping me focused–but unfortunately, she declined that job!
And then there was the moment when I looked over at all the happy faces at the table. Friends, both old and new, their faces illuminated in the twinkling lights, breaking bread together and celebrating that we not only met, but exceeded our fundraising goals. That, right there, was all the perfection I needed.
There are so many people I have to thank who were all a part of making this dinner so successful: All of my friends who attended and gave generously from their hearts to the foundation; my wonderful friend Adam who opened his beautiful home to host this dinner and who with his partner Shawn, made everything look amazing. Our generous sponsor, Melissa’s Produce, for providing the amazingly fresh and beautiful vegetables used in each dish. My talented friend London Mace who generously provided the photography for the event and is the photographer behind all of the images used in this post. To my husband who supports my every venture, no matter how crazy: I love you and I thank you. Everything was so great and I could not have done this without all of you.
Photography: London Mace Photography
Menu Graphic Design: Mitchell Hagan Studio
Calligraphy: Cher Chang
Fresh Produce: Nick Quintero and Jennifer Salzburg with Melissa’s Produce
Table and Chair Rental: Rebel Party Rental
Vintage Silver Service: Adam Throgmorton and Shawn Bicker