TORONTO Anyone who has arranged a dinner for 800 would surely agree the task can involve an inordinate amount of planning. But when that dinner involves 23 locations and 23 different chefs—followed by a cocktail party for 1,600 people at the Royal Ontario Museum—the planning process requires “an almost military hierarchy,” says David Vallee of David Vallee Entertains, who planned Bloor Street Entertains. The 12th annual fund-raiser for the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (Canfar) took place Wednesday.
“It requires an extreme amount of pre-planning,” said Vallee, who has been involved in organizing the event for the past four years. A committee of venue coordinators, each responsible for overseeing four to six venues, and an event manager at each dinner location ensure the event runs smoothly. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges. “Every year is challenging with this event because it is such a 24-headed monster,” he said, noting that recruiting chefs and securing venues is a process that begins in April.
“For economic reasons one of our mainstay venues wasn't able to participate, and one of our bigger venues, Rolls Royce, doesn't exist any more,” Vallee said. “So we lost about 100 seats through that changeover issue. But we replaced them with a number of new venues, including Daniel Espinosa Studio, Impressions Gallery, Ridpath's, and George C.” Vallee also incorporated a dinner in the Minto St. Thomas condominium showroom. “It's really nice to be able to get people into some unique locations,” he said.
Figuring out who eats where is another task, as guests don’t get to choose where they dine. “We ask for three preferences when people are buying tables because there is only so much room ... they are assigned based on merit, and that merit is financial contributions ... so obviously our lead sponsors get the first kick at the can,” Vallee said, noting that international brand names like Cartier, Tiffany, and Hugo Boss typically attract the majority of the requests.
Students from Seneca College's event design and management program produced the party at the ROM. “This year is all about colour,” Vallee said. “Rémy Martin, the cognac company, is the entertainment sponsor, and with them we are producing a fabulous lounge. We also have a beautiful dessert room with products from Dufflet Pastries, and Krupps is doing a coffee and espresso bar. It's really a melting pot because our after-party includes the guests who paid $600 to $1,000 per person for table tickets, and we invite all of the chefs and all of the servers, who are volunteers recruited by my company. We started that about four years ago and it saved us about $25,000.”
Vallee noted that Canfar sets a tight budget. “There's been a lot of chatter recently about the cost of charity events versus the amount of money that actually goes to the charity. One of the things that is extremely frustrating for me as an event planner and extremely gratifying at the same time is how cheap Canfar is. They are the most demanding client I've ever had in terms of return on investment. Every cent we spend we sweat. As much money as is humanly possible will be going to scientists and doctors across Canada to fight HIV and AIDS worldwide,” he said. “I'm just so thrilled we are able to get so many things donated.”
Kerry Whiteside, Canfar’s executive director, said the event attracts sponsors and attendees who are passionate about the organization's work. “Since I started working with Canfar I have found that so many people are really passionate and dedicated. People buy into the vision that AIDS research will end this pandemic,” said Whiteside. “Our challenge is to have these events and let people know it’s not over and the only way to solve it is through research.”
Dinner venues included the stores, offices, and showrooms of Bang & Olufson, Boss Hugo Boss, the Carlu, Cartier, Daniel Espinosa Studio, Escada, Harry Rosen, Holt Renfrew, McKinsey & Company, Roots Canada, Swarovski Canada, and Tiffany & Company.
Participating chefs included Jamie Kennedy of Jamie Kennedy at the Gardiner, Chris Zielinski of Ultra Supper Club, Corbin Tomaszeski of Holt's Cafe, Marc Thuet of Bite Me, Chris Scott of One Eleven Yorkville, Trevor Wilkinson of Trevor Kitchen, Ted Corrado of C5, Bradley Macdonald of Sassafraz, and Keith Froggett of Scaramouche.
Event sponsors included BMO Financial Group, Sun Life Financial, Rémy Martin, Magna, Aldo, Sentry Select, Labatt, Stella Artois, Toronto Life, and Zoom Media.