At the Central Park Conservancy’s Taste of Summer benefit, some 800 guests sampled sweet and savory fare from more than 40 restaurants in a setting that evokes an upscale park picnic. The event, held June 7 at the park’s Bethesda Terrace, also comes with logistical challenges to hosting an event in a public park along with the pressure of planning for an outdoor event that takes place rain or shine.
Pulling it together was Bryan Rafanelli of Rafanelli Events, who returned as the event designer for the second year. After guests descended the stone staircase into the terrace, they could pose for photos in front of oversize marquee letters spelling out “Taste.” From there, they entered a tent decorated with natural materials such as woven lamp shades and planters and greenery befitting the park. Throughout, Rafanelli added touches of Americana with vibrant striped and checked linens in blue, white, and yellow. Centerpieces were dotted with cherries, blueberries, blackberries to celebrate the bounty of the season.
“We wanted to celebrate that summertime feeling but make it chic and interesting and take it to the level that it is,” Rafanelli said.
In the tasting area underneath the bridge, guests sampled bites from restaurants including Kappo Masa, Rotisserie Georgette, and Sant Ambroeus, and Central Park’s own Tavern on the Green and Loeb Boathouse Central Park. The Plaza hotel served as the host of the Taste Café, a separate area initially open only to V.I.P.s. There were stations for the hotel’s various restaurants, including the Todd English Food Hall, with the chef himself on hand to serve bites and chat with guests, and Eloise at the Plaza, which offered a candy bar.
The event happens rain or shine, so Rafanelli devised a system of tents, connectors, and canopies for the site. “On a beautiful day, they provide shade. On a day that’s not so beautiful, it provides shelter,” he said. “We’re planners and we’re thinking about that.”
Organizers sought to keep truck deliveries to a minimum to protect the park. Instead, Rafanelli said they used golf carts.
“Whenever we work in a park like this, we have to respect it’s a public space,” he said. “We have to do our job: protect the stones, protect the grass. All of that is on the production people who make sure they’re respectful and get the job done.”
The benefit raised more than $800,000 to support the conservancy's work to maintain, restore, and enhance the 843-acre park.