The heady scents of an autumn menu. The clinking sounds of dishes and flatware being put into place. A brick-lined event space lit with candles. With the stage set and a dinner rendered by a private chef nearly served, model-philanthropist and FEED Projects founder Lauren Bush Lauren puts the finishing touches on an intimate farm-to-table meal for a slew of stylish New Yorkers with a conscience. Click here to see more photos.
It’s not a particularly uncommon scene in downtown Manhattan, or in L.A., where earlier this month a movie star gathered famous friends for a glitzy home-cooked dinner. Or even a continent away in Rio de Janeiro, where members of TEDGlobal brought together international influencers for a gracious meal. But one thing sets these single dinners apart from the countless suppers taking place throughout the globe: they helped feed millions—not just around a table in a city, but across the world in places where a nutritious meal is much harder to come by. They were all part of a month-long initiative called FEED Supper, which asked people to host a dinner with friends—be it a pizza party in a dorm room or a fancy meal at a restaurant—with each attendee donating $1.10 to provide ten meals to fight world hunger. “Really, it’s been a sort of grass roots, viral campaign,” says Lauren, who hosted her party on World Food Day to celebrate the campaign's successful completion. “We wanted it to be something that anyone can do.”
FEED's goal was to raise enough to donate 1 million meals in 30 days, and to say the organization finished strong would be an understatement. By Thursday night’s event the total had reached more than 1.6 million. And what better way to commend so many full stomachs and toast the exhausted and exhilarated FEED staff than with a beautiful dinner and an incredible reason to celebrate?
At the Kitchen Table, a cozy private event space in lower Manhattan, Lauren’s guests arrived by secret elevator to an apartment-like setting complete with a Le Creuset–stocked kitchen and modern-rustic furnishings from Restoration Hardware and West Elm. Greenery and flowers were hand picked for the fête by the Kitchen Table owner and co-founder Grace Park and marketing director Judy Kim, an in-house floral whiz. “I love using greens, especially the herbs you're using in your food, and adding just a bit of color,” says Park. “Engaging your guests' sense of smell helps to enhance the food and adds a bit of design umami to the dinner party experience.” With an eye toward conservation that felt of a kind with FEED’s mission, the pair chose to display rosemary topiaries in modest terra cotta pots that could be replanted later, and interspersed just a few cut flowers, including rust-colored parrot tulips, in vintage glass jars and mint julep cups.
It’s no coincidence the arrangements also perfectly echoed chef Dante Giannini’s autumn-inspired dishes. Park requested the menu in advance to ensure the food and décor were more than complimentary. For his part Giannini, a go-to talent of the New York–based startup Kitchensurfing—which helps hosts book local chefs for private dinner parties—planned a farm-to-table menu that spotlights seasonal ingredients. His veggie-centric creations (Lauren is a vegetarian) included a hearty barley salad with butternut squash; roasted baby beets with shaved heirloom carrots; sea trout with cauliflower puree; and vegan pumpkin bread. “Fall is definitely my favorite season to cook in,” says Giannini. “I joke that I’m happy that summer’s over because I’m tired of looking at corn and tomatoes.” Naturally, the bounty of local ingredients was well represented. Fingerling potatoes came from Upstate New York and tender salad greens traveled less than 60 miles from Connecticut to the table. Dishes were served family style, a choice that couldn’t have felt more appropriate for an event conceived to celebrate a month of shared meals.
The simple pennant banner that hung on one wall—an item that, along with the printed placemats and name cards, was included in the FEED Supper toolkit each host received when signing up throughout the month—was perhaps the most telling accessory of the evening: humble, ordinary, and with the power to affect enormous positive change. As Lauren puts it, “The mission of this FEED Supper activation was to galvanize people to come together, share a meal, and with that give back to feed others.” Mission accomplished.
The Kitchen Table co-founder Grace Park shares five tips for throwing a flawless dinner party
1. Be prepared. If you're cooking yourself, pick a menu that doesn't need a lot of last minute attention. You don't want to be holed up in the kitchen when your guests arrive.
2. Use place cards. They're necessary when you have a large group. I like to make sure people are seated close enough to those they already know but also next to someone they might not know as well. Couples are never seated across from each other—it makes for much more interesting conversation.
3. Invest in props. Linens and a few small glass vases can dress up even a folding table, and everything looks better in candlelight.
4. Never, ever run out of wine. Most wine shops give you 10% off cases so why not purchase a case of your favorite to have on hand?
5. Consider hiring staff. It'll let you spend more time entertaining your guests and less time making sure the ice bucket is full. The best part is you don't wake up to an apartment full of dirty dishes the next morning!