Imagine the ultimate dinner party: fascinating guests, a mind-blowing menu, a breathtaking setting. Every now and then, those elements combine in a totally magical (or bizarre) way and the party goes down in history. These legendary dinners actually happened—some of them are still happening—and all we can say is, save us a seat next time?
Why we wish we were there: On December 12, 1972, Marie-Hélène de Rothschild held her famous Surrealist Ball at the iconic Château Ferrières. And when Marie-Hélène de Rothschild let her imagination run wild, no expense or detail was spared. We might have ended up running through a maze of cobwebs with Salvador Dali.
The Guest List: Audrey Hepburn, supermodel Marisa Berenson, famed perfumer Hélène Rochas and the ultimate surrealist, Salvador Dali.
The Special Effects: The requirements for the fancy dress party were “black tie, long dresses and Surrealists' heads,” and the invitation had to be held up to a mirror—it was printed backwards—to be read. The exterior of the Château was lit with sweeping amber lights designed to create the illusion that the building was on fire; and an entire staircase was filled with servants and footmen dressed as cats, all in various sleeping poses. Guests then walked through a forest of black ribbons, meant to be cobwebs, and a maze before entering the ballroom for drinks and dinner.
The Food: The menu involved something called "Imbroglio de Cadavres Exquis," or "Exquisite Corpse Imbroglio." Enough said.
Questlove Food Salon
Why We Wish We Were There: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson—the ubiquitous music celebrity, record producer, music journalist, and drummer and joint frontman for The Roots—hosts his now-legendary Questlove Food Salons, bringing together a mix of his eclectic friends to enjoy a meal by some of the world’s best chefs.
Guest List: A recent Los Angeles Salon featured guests like Adrian Grenier, Zoë Kravitz, Grimes, Bat for Lashes, Best Coast, Matt Barber, Miranda July and James Corden.
The Food: The menu that night was a joint effort created by Maxime Bilet, head chef for the massive Modernist Cuisine project in Seattle; Angela Pinkerton, who was pastry chef at Eleven Madison Park in New York; and Flynn McGarry, the teenage wunderkind of cooking. McGarry served uni brined in seawater with carrot and coffee puree; Bilet made caramelized sunchoke puree, roasted and glazed vegetables, and pressure-cooked seeds; and Pinkerton capped off the night with a Meyer lemon cream with poppy seed cake, topped with whipped yogurt and olive oil.
Smithsonian Food History Gala Dinner
Why We Wish We Were There: Because it was Daniel Boulud cooking for Jacques Pepin in honor of Julia Child. On October 22, 2015, the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., home of Julia Child’s kitchen, hosted a gala evening dedicated to food history. The event brought together a dynamic crowd of food professionals, practitioners and aficionados to honor Jacques Pepin, who was awarded the inaugural presentation of the Julia Child Award by the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts.
Guest List: Alton Brown, Marcus Samuelsson, Sara Moulton and other food luminaries.
The Food: In honor of Julia and Jacques, a special menu was prepared by chef Daniel Boulud, inspired by Julia Child's television show and their books together: It included cherry tomato farcies, mini pissaladiere, chicken liver mousse and quiche royale, Provencal fish stew with garlic mayo, and poached pears with chocolate sauce.
The 2015 White House Correspondents' Dinner
Why We Wish We Were There: Once a year, journalists, politicians and the Hollywood elite come together to rub shoulders at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, alternately dubbed the “Nerd Prom” and “Washington’s Super Bowl." President Obama was scathingly funny last year.
Guest List: This year’s guests included host Cecily Strong, Ava DuVernay, Bradley Cooper, Laverne Cox, Jane Fonda, Naya Rivera, Wolf Blitzer, Chrissy Teigen, Lucy Liu and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Donald Trump, Billionaire Michael Bloomberg, Valerie Jarrett, Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue cover model Hannah Davis, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his grandmother.
The Food: Andre Coté, chef of the Washington Hilton, prepared a salad of black lentil terrine; crab and tear drop tomatoes over artisan greens; and Texas-rubbed petite filet with a Calvados sauce, served with red curry jumbo shrimp, haricot verts and risotto. The dinner's 2,700 guests finished with "The Galaxy," a chocolate truffle mousse layered with chocolate genoise and almond macaroon.
Joe Baum Birthday Party
Why We Wish We Were There: Joe Baum is a legendary restaurateur, responsible for creating some of the country's most iconic restaurants including The Four Seasons Restaurant, Windows on the World and the restored Rainbow Room. Baum was fond of hosting dinner parties for legends of the culinary world, including James Beard. And he was also fond of food fights.
Special Effects: At Baum’s birthday one year, when James Beard was a guest, Baum (pictured, left, with son-in-law Richard Stein) took hunks of his birthday cake (Black Forest, baked by Albert Stockli, opening chef of the Four Seasons) and started hurling it down the table. “Instead of using a knife to cut the cake, he essentially slid his hand between the cake plate and the cake and just started taking large pieces of cake in his hand, lifting it up into the air behind his head, and launching it down the table,” recalled his son, the photographer Charles Baum. “There was chocolate cake and chocolate shavings everywhere. One piece ended up on my grandfather’s forehead with an Oy! and then another ricocheted off Jim.”
The Food: Well, there was that chocolate cake...
Sue Mengers’s Dinner Parties
Why We Wish We Were There: Because Sue Mengers, one of the most powerful agents in Hollywood in her heyday, hosted the ultimate star-filled soirees, bringing together her former clients along with other actors, filmmakers, producers, writers, publishers and directors for intimate dinners at her Beverly Hills home.
The Guest List: You might be dining with Graydon Carter of Vanity Fair, Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich, Nora Ephron and Fran Lebowitz one night, and Lorne Michaels, Tina Fey, and Jimmy Fallon another. “You would never quite know who was going to be there,” Tina Fey told The New York Times. “The doorbell would keep ringing and you’d look up and it’s like, ‘Oh, Jack Nicholson. Diane Keaton.’”
The Food: Mengers had many talents, but cooking wasn't one of them. She once told Vanity Fair: “Are you kidding? I don’t even know where the f---ing kitchen is."
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