On the new Bravo reality show Rocco's Dinner Party, which debuts Wednesday, professional chefs compete to put on the ultimate dinner party. Jes Gordon, C.E.O. and creative director of the New York-based JesGordon/properFUN, appears on each week's episode, lending a professional hand to the chefs as they plan their events. We spoke with Gordon about the show and how it captures—or doesn't capture—the realities of the event business.
How does the show work?
The show is a dinner-party competition hosted and judged by [celebrity chef] Rocco DiSpirito. Three chefs come onto the show and cook their signature dish for Rocco. Rocco eliminates one of the chefs based on his likes or dislikes of their signature dishes. Then, there are two chefs left and their challenge is to throw the ultimate dinner party for Rocco and six of his celebrity guests. The chefs are not only responsible for the [party's] food and beverage—they also must create a concept for design, decor, and ambience. As the chefs are freaking out over what type of flowers they should use and props to place, Rocco introduces me, Jes Gordon, as someone who will execute their vision in a professional and elegant way. I serve as a mentor to the chefs and execute their vision while adding a professional designer's flair into the mix.
I feel that the show will be one of the most successful that Bravo has ever produced. I love the fact that they have created this wonderful hybrid of a concept that isn't just a cooking show. They are showing viewers that food is not the only game in town. The mix of food and ambience is essential, and [Rocco's Dinner Party] is really the only show that has ever joined the two together.
Will the show give a realistic sense of what it's like to work in the event industry?
To be honest, not really. I don't think any show will ever do that—it's too hard. The show does, however, give a glimpse into transforming a space and how that affects the overall feel and ambience of an event, and [the result] does affect the chosen winner. The show highlights the importance of design and attention to detail [in the event industry], and gives a small look at the urgency of getting things done in time and to perfection.
What do you think accounts for the increased interest in event planners on TV?
Event producers are interesting people by nature. We need to understand the business side of things, but we also get to express ourselves creatively. Our industry is fascinating because the people who run these businesses tend to be multifaceted and certainly use both sides of the brain. TV is a great platform to show off the skills most [event planners] must have to be successful, such as charisma, a strong love of beauty and people, and a strong business sense.
How was planning events for the show different from working with corporate clients?
Not much different, except I was producing these events within hours versus having a month or so with a corporate client to iron out the details. It was the same [as working with a corporate client] in that I had to take a vision and execute it so it best reflected the chefs' [individual personalities], and we obviously do the same with brands and corporate and social clients.
How do you think TV will affect the industry in the next few years?
Not to toot my own horn, but the reveals of the dinner parties [in each episode] are out of this world. I feel like people will not only watch the show for Rocco, but I think they will also secretly be fast-forwarding to see how the rooms look for the dinner parties. I think this reveal will springboard into a lot of focus turning toward event production and experiential agencies for sure, and that in the next few years the industry will be taken more seriously.
If you could develop a concept for an industry-related show, what would it be?
A more realistic approach to how we get things done behind the scenes would be a blessing. We so often have to explain so much to our clients, particularly where money is concerned. I feel [a TV show that documented behind-the-scenes action] would answer a lot of questions. It's funny that a lawyer can charge a certain amount of money per hour, but when an event producer delivers a bill it's constantly questioned. It is clear to me that most people out there have no idea what goes into making the world a prettier place to live in.