11 July 2015

Lobster and Fennel Salad with Arugula for Diner en Blanc

Lobster and Fennel Salad with Arugula - Lobster Roll without the bun!!
It's one of France's greatest exports next to baguettes, Godard movies and Thierry Henry. On an ethereal night hundreds of people dressed elegantly in white, converged at a secret location, shrouded in mystery, setting up miles of white fold-up tables draped in white crisp linens and topped with sparkling crystal soon to be filled with local wines. White plates and silverware were set, table decorations arranged from candles to candelabras. Our senses were heightened and we were more than ready for a highly anticipated evening. The stage was set, candles flickered and nature created the backdrop, a kaleidoscope show of colour in the fading light as a sea of white revellers loomed before us.

An event of this size takes some mastery and a huge shout out to the organizers is essential. True to tradition, bystanders and passersby witnessed our  group of revellers gathering at specific rallying points all across the city to board school buses for our 1/2 hour drive to the small community of Peachland our secret location this year. We were there to see and be seen. Our individual groups then converged on one of the most beautiful settings in the city one by one to set up their tables and encroutements en masse. The logistics of organizing 1,000 people is mind blowing in itself.  How they manage to organize 1,000's in larger cities is beyond my comprehension. 

Despite our cumbersome arrival by a fleet of school buses with fold up table, and picnic baskets in tow, the 1,000 pre-registered guests strove for elegance to emulate the original Parisian diners who launched Dîner en Blanc 27 years ago. I learned the first year that having something on wheels to lug all my stuff to this annual event was the way to go. Last year we purchased white "granny" carts and it has made the journey so much easier. We decided even so that somehow next year we had to simplify even more. We surveyed the scene with awe as it unfolded around us as we sipped wines brought in from Crush Pad's Haywire Winery  in Summerland. Not even the 36 Celcius weather and perspiration on our brow could dampen our spirits.
The essence
Fascinators, white masks and wigs, jaunty hats and even 18th century style clothing were all "over the top" expressions of our 'tres chiche' individuality. No two were dressed alike. We were all in high spirits for the third sanctioned Dîner en Blanc in the Okanagan Valley. From global phenomenon to highly sought after “secret,” Dîner en Blanc took over the waterfront in Peachland for the third year in a row on July 9, 2015. This très chic picnic, imported from France could be described as the flash mob of the culinary world. We came, we saw, we conquered!
An example of beautiful tablescaping
The traditional wave of a sea of napkins in the air, the sound of popping corks for sparkling wines echoing all around, and there was a collective sigh of relief. All the planning, all the waiting has ended. We are all here for one purpose. We love food. We love celebration. We love the mystery. We mingle, we dine, we entertain. With the lake as a focal point in the small community of Peachland, a welcoming breeze on a sultry evening, and a wonderful view of the mountains, it seemed even the sunset and the moon cooperated. More champagne led to dancing... and as a friend said, "Non, je ne regrette rien..." I regret nothing. The original founder meant for this unique event to feel like a dream—the dinner party pops up in the middle of a public place and then disappears without a trace...like magic.
 “Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious.” ― Ruth Reichl
An array of cheeses; Creme Brûlée with Roasted Balsamic and Honey Cherries
I love the whole concept!!  Although Dîner en Blanc may be a 'pop-up' picnic, plaid napkins and fried chicken are nowhere in sight!  Picnic baskets are packed with elegant white linens, white china dishes, real silverware and amazing food. Guests are requested to pack a 3-course meal which was limited only by our imaginations. On the menu this year my friends and I dreamed up a feast with portability in mind. You had the option of catering this year from Salted Brick or  Basket Case Picnics but since that is not the experience we are looking for we create our own feast. Our friend Carola, a new addition to our party this year, brought an array of wonderful cheeses from a local purveyor to start us off. I brought a Lobster and Fennel Salad with Arugula and my friend Dina of Olive Oil and Lemons wooed us with a Fingerling and Potato Salad with Radishes and Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette and a Lentil Salad with Roasted Eggplant, Red Pepper and Zucchini Tossed in Olive Oil all topped with beautiful edible flowers and herbs from her rooftop gardens. And for dessert Creme Brûlée from Monika "The Baker" at Okanagan Grocers topped with my special Roasted Balsamic Cherries. Our taste buds danced across the table rather than our feet with every culinary masterpiece placed before us.When it was time to leave, guests pack up their crystal, dinnerware and tables, pick up all their litter and headed into the night, leaving behind no sign of their elegant revelry. It's as if it never happened like Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Nights Dream."
Lobster and Fennel Salad with Arugula; Lentil Salad with Roasted Eggplant, Red Pepper and Zucchini Tossed with Olive Oil, and Fingerling Potato Salad with Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette

Cooking is like love. 
It should be entered into with abandon 
or not at all.
 -Harriet van Horne
The Okanagan event here in Kelowna takes place in  the smallest of the cities worldwide but with our background of award winning wines and a reputation as a culinary destination, it seems only natural for us to be part of this unique experience. Spatula Media + Communications and Impact Events negotiated official status for Dîner en Blanc Okanagan 2 years ago. With this official status we join some of the most glamorous cities around the world including Paris, Milan, Barcelona, San Francisco, Chicago and Sidney.  The Okanagan joins only eight other cities granted status in Canada to date... Montreal, Calgary Quebec City, Vancouver, Victoria, Edmundston, Niagara-on-the-Lake,  and Toronto. There are other non-sanctioned white dinners around the world and I even read about a Diner en Noir in San Francisco and New York.
How did this yearly worldwide event start you ask? Dîner en Blanc is a magical experience that began in perhaps the chi-chest city in the world...Paris. It is a celebration of old-world elegance that Jay Gatsby would have adored. In the summer of 1988, Francois Pasquier had just returned to Paris after a few years abroad and held a dinner party to reconnect with friends. So many wished to attend that he asked them to convene at Bois de Boulogne dressed in white, so they would be recognizable to one another. Each attendee was also asked to bring a friend. The evening was such a hit that guests wanted more friends to join-in the following year and thus was born the concept of Dîner en Blanc. Dîner en Blanc now brings together over 10,000 people each year in some of the most prestigious locations throughout the French capital.

In June 1991, four years after the event’s debut, the founding group of friends decided to organize their growing numbers in one of the French capital’s most beautiful locations, Pont des Arts, in the heart of Paris (a first). Knowing full well that local authorities would never allow such an event to take place there, keeping the location a secret until the very last minute was crucial to the success of the event.

Following in his fathers footsteps, one of his sons, Aymeric Pasquier, moved to Montreal and kept the family tradition going when he came together with friends to hold the first Dîner en Blanc in Canada in August of 2009.

Quoting from the elegantly written prose of the event website:
"White-swathed tables appear in orderly rows, 
white balloons drift lazily skyward as gleeful attendees, 
dressed head to toe in the color du jour, 
unwrap their summer's eve repast. 
The backdrop of the secret location 
add the only splash of color to the
 monochromatic celebration...." 

The worldwide phenomenon known as Dîner en Blanc celebrated its 27th anniversary this year!  What began as a “friends and word-of-mouth only” event has grown into an international epicurean phenomenon on five continents in 35 cities and 23 countries around the world at my last count. While the technology behind the event may have changed over the years, the principles fuelling this fantastic event have not. Diners continue to gather at a secret location for the sole purpose of sharing a high-quality meal with good friends and thousands of strangers in one of their city’s most beautiful locations. Each event is headed by passionate local organizers who fell in love with the concept and wanted to bring it to their city, giving this rendezvous a local flair.

I think it’s just a really cool excuse to get together and forget everything else that’s going on for about four hours, and just really take in that 'joie de vivre' which at the end of the day is the essence of French dining culture. The idea is to show the great power of human connection and share the experience with thousands of new found friends. As the Twitter posts and newscasts shared the event, perhaps some of the naysayers, who believed only an idiot would pay money to bring their own tables and chairs and food to dinner, were silently wishing they were a part of this. If you're intrigued there is always next year guys. In truth the original cost of buying a table, white plates and a white outfit can be daunting at first but once that initial expense is made subsequent events year after year will cost a minimal amount.

Would I attend again next year? Absolutely! It is not something I would miss despite the "complaint committee" of my closest friends...wink.  If every member invited one friend to next years event our numbers would double. But it is coming to the point that our numbers are maxed out and only those in the first tier and their friends are able to join in. My only suggestion is that I would love to have the phenomenon celebrated on the same night for one big global event.  Waving of napkins, clinking of glasses en masse. To be a small part of a bigger than life celebration would be the ultimate goal.

To include you in our revelry I offer you my recipe for Lobster and Fennel Salad with Arugula recipe.  Bon appetit!! 

'Mangez bien, riez souvent, aimez beaucoup' means (Eat well, laugh often, love abundantly).

**Lobster and Fennel Salad With Arugula**

3 cups coarsely chopped cooked lobster meat (about 3 [1 1/4-pound] lobsters)
2 cups cold water
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 large fennel bulb—halved, cored and sliced paper-thin on a mandoline
1/2 cup mayonnaise
zest of 1/2 lemon
2 teaspoons chopped tarragon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 cups packed arugula leaves (3 ounces)
1 medium shallot, very thinly sliced
1/4 cup parsley leaves
4 - 8 radishes (depending on their size) for decoration

In a large bowl, mix the cold water with 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice. Add the fennel and refrigerate for about 25 minutes or more, until the fennel is very crisp. 

 In a medium bowl, mix the mayonnaise with the tarragon, the lemon zest and the remaining 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Season the dressing with salt and pepper. Keep refrigerated until ready to use.

 Drain the fennel and pat dry with paper towels; transfer to a large bowl. Add the lobster meat, shallot and parsley leaves. Add all but 1/4 cup of the dressing to the bowl and toss well. Add arugula and radishes just before serving.

Arrange the salad on plates. Drizzle the lobster with the remaining dressing and serve at once. (For the purpose of Diner en Blanc I moulded the lobster salad in rings, or you could even use paper cups) starting with a layer of thinly sliced radishes arranged decoratively for the "top" as illustrated and then topped with arugula, then lobster salad, then a final layer of arugula to be transported to the venue).


The shelled lobster meat and the tarragon dressing can be refrigerated separately overnight.

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison. Best Blogger Tips


  1. Love your WHITE event..I did hear of one in MTL last year:)
    All white is just so beautiful.

  2. What a nice post — and what a fabulous dish to bring to the party!

  3. I love this event! If I lived closer, I'd beg to be a part of it!!


  4. What a lovely experience this must have been for you! It looks both beautiful and delicious. Hum, I wonder if I could start one here...

  5. I love picnics of any kind

  6. What a beautiful event, love all white.......

  7. I am completely charmed, Val. What a glorious event! The flowers on the tables, everyone one in white...I love it. Your salad was an elegant addition....love tarragon with shellfish.
    Wish I could be there, it's a lovely tradition.

  8. I'm not sorry I missed the heat, but I deeply regret not having a taste of that lobster salad :-)

  9. A marvelous event! This salad sounds and looks fantastic.



  10. Absolutely a stunning event! You've captured the romance so beautifully. GREG

  11. So, so fun!! I love the sparklers and your fabulous hat. :-)

  12. Thanks for another lovely event together Val, always fun. The lobster salad was exquisite. Here is to next year....maybe...:). We have to simplify it somehow, but knowing how much we love food it will never be simple.


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