Diner en Blanc Singapore
Text: Denise Ngo
It's amazing how quickly things fall apart over a matter of hours. When we bragged to our friends about snagging an invite to Diner en Blanc early last Thursday, no one cared because they'd never even heard of the event. But of course, everything changed after food blogger Daniel Ang's infamous "tau huay" post began circulating the web that afternoon. In case you've been living under a rock, the story goes like this: after being invited to Diner en Blanc, Daniel wrote a light-hearted post recommending white local foods, like tau huay and chee cheong fun, for guests to bring as per the event's white motif. He and all other bloggers were subsequently uninvited, and Daniel was instructed to remove the post, as it was implied that local food is too lowbrow for a gourmet French party. The ensuing controversy made a zinger of a news story, but it spelt PR fiasco for the local organisers, who had spent almost four months planning the event only to see it become the butt of a joke.
Some would argue that any press is good press, and at the very least, the organisers' mad scramble to recover their dignity gave Diner en Blanc extra publicity and dimension. An event that takes itself this seriously - come on, attendants had to haul over their own tables and china - is ripe for story, if not satire. But to see it stumble so spectacularly even before it had begun, made us even more excited to attend than before. How do you even recover from that, especially when reactionary events initiated by bloggers were not only taking place nearby, but were already getting more buzz online?
We headed downtown at 5:30 PM last night, awaiting the final SMS indicating the event's location. At 6:20 PM - less than an hour before Diner en Blanc officially opened - we learned that it would take place in the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands. Meanwhile, the other guests were meeting at the Stadium MRT and Liang Court, where they would await transport to the secret venue.
Guest began filing in at around 6:45 PM, tables, trolleys, picnic baskets, and all. Over 500 people arrived via buses, while 360 came in by river taxi. We saw gowns. We saw fascinators. We saw three-piece suits, ballerina tutus, cheongsams, capes, bridesmaids dresses, and lots and lots of tulle. People were joking that Diner en Blanc looked like a PAP gathering. But to us, it looked more like a wedding party gone rogue.
At least the rain had let up (there went all the jokes about how the dinner had regressed into a glorified wet T-shirt contest). Umbrellas disappeared beneath picnic tables. Out came the food, which was stored in everything from Tupperware to white canvas bags. We saw sushi, steak, and yes, tau huay, which was virtually indistinguishable from panna cotta when plated and dressed up with berries.
Everyone was seated by 7:45. The jazz band went into ballad mode.As people settled down, the organisers announced that it was time for everyone to wave their napkins. White helium balloons popped up around us like daisies, while inflatable birds appeared in the sky, giving the appearance of giant, glowing moustaches hovering above the ground. People cheered and chowed down. Dinner had begun, with only a smattering of murmurs of the previous week's controversy. After all that hauling and running around, everyone just wanted to sit down and eat.
There were a couple of notable moments during the evening, which we mostly spent downing bottomless champagne and stuffing our faces with delicious, if tiny, hors d'oeuvres (we were promised food, but alas, this was not the case). At around 9pm, some daring guy proposed to his girlfriend in front of the entire crowd. At 9:30, guests lit sparklers and released balloons at their tables. Sometime during all this hoopla, a 40-strong flash mob came out and boogied to LMFAO's "Party Rock". And even though this was technically the start of a dance party, people started packing up and going home - food coma, we suppose, and the lingering thought of work the next day.
Overall, Diner en Blanc felt a lot more intimate than we expected, given that more than 800 attended. Even though the tables were arranged Hogwarts-style, all the couples seemed to be lost in their own world. You know how the Moonies in South Korea have mass weddings? Diner en Blanc in Singapore was like witnessing a massive first date. To approach people mid-meal and ask about the preparation process would be akin to intruding on a private moment. So in that sense, the organisers did succeed - scores of people showed up, everyone dressed to the nines, and we all got to experience a kind of exclusivity: be it escape into one's own lovey-dovey world, or a place in the city's most happening, if not notorious, party.
Missed out on the invites? Click through our gallery to see photos of the event.