Pop-Up Gala Tips for the Uninitiated


Guest columnist Denine Gorniak offers a few pointers for those making their debut en blanc at the second Collingswood Pop-Up Gala on Saturday.

By Denine Gorniak

The second annual Collingswood Pop-up Gala will be held Saturday, September 6, at an undisclosed location. Tickets are available through Friday, September 5.

Denine Gorniak, aka 'The Bicycle Chef', lends her tips to enjoying a diner en blanc-style event. Credit: Denine Gorniak.

Denine Gorniak, a.k.a., ‘The Bicycle Chef’ (top right), dishes on enjoying a diner-en-blanc-style event. Credit: Denine Gorniak.

As a veteran Pop-Up Gala and Diner en Blanc attendee, I feel uniquely qualified to share with you how one can easily do a “dinner in white” event.

Since 2011, I have attended, blogged, and photographed four “dinner in white” events, and attended last year’s Collingswood’s Pop Up Gala. After three years, I have this event down to a science, whether I’m with four or fifty people.

Here’s what I’ve learned: don’t get stressed

Yes, these sorts of events can feel overwhelming, and it can seem odd to have to wear an all-white outfit and bring all of your own provisions to some unknown locale.

I’m here to tell you that’s the beauty of this event. I want to share with you the lessons of my mistakes and what I now know to be the keys to having a memorable night.

Dressing the part

First and foremost, you have to have your white ensemble. Given that our Collingswood Pop-Up Gala is after Labor Day, don’t listen to old-fashioned wisdom: you can still wear white and look fabulous. Many department stores still have white pants, shirts, shoes, and hats, and you can pull together a fancy outfit from local thrift shops and consignment stores. Our very own Frugal has a number of fetching pieces you can buy without breaking your bank.

Keep the clothes simple. Just because the fashion magazines are hawking fall clothes, don’t forget: it is still summer. Wear light fabrics with few if any embellishments. Wrap a simple scarf around your neck; add a few strands of long pearl beads. Don a white feather boa; wear a fun white bandana or ascot tied rakishly about your throat.

For men and women, hats are always fun, whether you spend $5 or $50. Since there are few occasions to wear hats these days, now’s the time to have some fun and wear one!

Displays such as these are gorgeous, but remember--everything has to be transported to and from the event. Credit: Denine Gorniak.

Displays such as these are gorgeous, but remember–everything has to be transported to and from the event. Credit: Denine Gorniak.

Dinnerware at a discount

After you have your outfit settled, you need to think about your table and dishes. Head to Ikea, Target or Wegmans. Village Thrift has plenty of dishes and glasses you can grab for under a dollar each. Tablecloths and napkins also can be found at these places, as well as at Christmas Tree Shops or Bed Bath and Beyond.

All these shops have a lot of great, inexpensive white dishes, clear, high-end-style, unbreakable glasses, and terrific silverware that you can purchase for this event and use over and over again.

A square, 32-inch card table is a must. If you can still find a roll-up camping table, buy it. You will find use for it again, I promise. They make terrific side tables for parties. Can’t find white chairs? Use spray paint!

Elegance and charm with a few details

Do a dry run of your table before the event so that you know how and where everything is going. It’s great practice and will give you a chance to be sure you everything you need but not have too much stuff. “Less is more” should be your mantra!

You can turn a bunch of white carnations and a few bunches of herbs like basil, thyme, parsely and mint into a gorgeous centerpiece. Cut the stems down, and either push them into well-soaked floral foam, or tie the stems together to keep the arrangement bundled and place it in a clear glass or white vase. For under $10, your centerpiece will be practical and beautiful.

Simple, battery-operated candles work better than real candles and you won’t be worried about keeping a candle wick lit all night; plus, you can tuck battery operated candles into unexpected places on your table to create a glowing ambiance.

Intimidated by the planning that goes into the Pop-Up Gala? Keep it simple. Credit: Denine Gorniak.

Intimidated by the planning that goes into the Pop-Up Gala? Keep it simple. Credit: Denine Gorniak.

What to serve

Your meal should be a no-fuss affair as well. Yes, it is an elegant picnic, but if you spend days planning and cooking the meal and then worry about carrying it and keeping it at a safe temperature, then worry about the serving presentation, you aren’t going to enjoy your dinner.

I’ve had high end-take out, cooked an elaborate four course meal, and bought a simple dinner of fried chicken and side salads. My favorite meal by far was the fried chicken dinner, accompanied by a few cheeses, bread and easy, pick-up dessert bites. Keep the wines light and have plenty of sparkling water to stay hydrated.

Getting it all there

Now that you have all the stuff—outfits, table and chairs, food, decorations, etc.—you need to consider how to carry all of it. Yes, you and your guest can split up the hauling duties, but do consider using a shopping grocery cart, a beach cart, dolly or your kid’s wagon. It’ll be more fun and a lot less stress on your arms and back. Trust me, I’ve had to schlepp all this stuff up and down steps and across the city blocks three years in a row. I know what I’m talking about.

Worried about the cart or wagon not being white? Don’t be. Use a white sheet to drape around or over it once you have reached our secret dining destination.

The most important rule for attending a dinner in white is to have fun! Credit: Denine Gorniak.

The most important rule for attending a dinner in white is to have fun! Credit: Denine Gorniak.

Live for the moment

The last tip to share that is the most important tip: keep everything simple and light and have fun. Don’t get so caught up in the details that you forget to enjoy the night, your company, the once-in-a-summer event.

If you’re fussing about your meal, you lose sight of the reason why we are all dressed in white, dining together. It’s a community event designed to inspire and create a magical fantasy night in your life.

Summer is fleeting, and we only get one more chance this season to wear all white and enjoy ourselves while doing it!

Chef, photographer, and blogger Denine R. Gorniak is the founder of the Collingswood Food Swappers and writes regularly at TheBicycle-Chef.com.


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