Secret Dinner, 2013
"what do you mean we're trapped in the elevator?!"
The basic concept of the secret dinner is that you commit to the evening without knowing where or what you will eat, just that it will not be in a restaurant, and that some adventure will be involved.
At our first Secret Dinner in 2012, residents met in the Fairmont hotel lobby, and were taken by cab to a surprise location on Higgins.
Phase I - Champagne and hors d'oeuvres
For our second Secret Dinner, on a chilly December 10 2013, about 50 residents were only told to meet at HutK Furniture on Princess. The building was built in 1883 as the first Oddfellows Hall for the Independent Order of Oddfellows.
Expecting to be transported to the dinner location from there, most were reluctant to take off their coats and relax. It wasn't until champagne was served that they realized we were not immediately heading onward. Then came the baby cobs of corn wrapped in prosciutto, and now the coats were coming off!
While the relaxing, mingling and drinking was proceeding, the first group was asked to assemble in the back. Most thought we were going to slip out the back door. Instead, the plan was to take the freight elevator upstairs. On the third floor, is the original ballroom used by the Oddfellows and Rebekahs for their events; for us, a spectacular dinner awaited.
Phase II - Transport to Dinner Location
However, the adventure was just beginning for the first group. Ten of us, armed with coats and drinks, squeezed into the old freight elevator. When the gate closed, we moved a few feet then stopped dead. Yes, we were trapped in the elevator.
We tried from the inside, others tried from the outside, property managers and elevator people were called, yet there we were. We were packed in so tight, I couldn't raise my arm holding my camera - all I could do was take a pic of our feet! At least we still had some champagne!
Eventually I managed to raise the camera. Did it record the faces of scared people, worried about the prospect of freezing to death on a cold Tuesday night in the freight elevator of a 133 year old heritage building?
No, the party was on, and unbelievably, we were all having fun. Okay, I admit I took a risk when I suggested we may be over the weight limit, and maybe some of the ladies should climb out -- but I figured we were packed in too tight for me to get slapped!
With no other bright ideas, two brave ladies were hoisted over the gate, and managed to squeeze between the top of the gate and the ceiling of the first floor. With two out, the button was pushed, and brrrrrrrr, we were off, slowly, up to the third floor.
By this time, the rest of the diners had been guided to the third floor by the servers via the stairway. Smart!
Phase III - Dinner
The room looked incredible, with its high ceiling of pressed metal, tall windows and mezzanine. Each table was decorated with different tablecloth, cutlery and each with a spectacular centrepiece. Placed around the room were mosaic sculptures by the talented minister, and R:ED member Doug Wiebe
On the walls, a video depicting a through-the-window scene of a snowy backyard which started out seeming animated, then through the evening (and a bit of wine) took on an eerie realism, such that I kept looking at that scene rather than out the windows of the room.
Dinner started with a salad of tomato, arugula, ricotta salata crumble, sherry vinegar.
Keep in mind that as we are not in a restaurant, there is no normal restaurant kitchen. Chef Alejandro Mora created makeshift kitchen upstairs, just off the mezzanine, and everything from kitchen items to dining tables and chairs, glasses and cutlery were all rented and brought in.
Seared scallops were next, with roasted corn grapefruit jalapeno relish and red pepper puree. The next course was a pork shoulder, black bean, manchego cheese pupusa and slaw. In between courses, the hard working servers were refilling wine glasses.
Had enough food? No way, next was guava glazed lamb chops, plantain-ter tots and baby bok choy. Dessert was an amazing chocolate mascarpone tart, pistachios in lemon olive oil. A totally satisfying and delicious meal, by chef Alejandro Mora.
Then after some more mingling the party ended, and we left -- this time safely down the stairway, each with a short walk home.