Over the past few decades, my husband and I have attended our fair share of fundraising dinners.  They tend to be formulaic — a worthy cause, a banquet dinner of rubber chicken or beef tenderloin and overcooked vegetables, often a silent auction, and a motivational speaker.  Yawn.

Saturday night, however, we attended a fundraising dinner like none we’d ever been to.  The dinner was one of a series of private dinners called Feast, benefitting the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston, inspired by an upcoming exhibit called Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art.

The premise of the dinners, limited to 30 persons, was to pair Philip Speer, culinary director of Uchi, with one of the artists in the exhibition, to create a unique partnership between food and art.  And unique it was!

The invitation advised that this was a “special office-themed edition.”  In keeping with the theme, the dinnner was held at Gensler Design Studio, located downtown in the Pennzoil Building (designed by Phillip Johnson):


The artists for the dinner, entitled “A Motivational Retreat,” were The Art Guys, who posed as “motivational speakers and leaders.”


The invitation advised that the dress code for the evening was M.O.D. (Motivational Office Dress).  This presented quite a challenge for me, because the only thing my office dress motivates me to do is buy new office dress.  But others embraced the challenge to wear “creative business attire,” like this couple, who came advocating a “European attitude towards the office”:


The Art Guys gave a hilarious presentation, during which time we enjoyed wonderful appetizers, each one a self-contained little work of art:




I only wish there had been cards identifying what each one was — as it was I had to guess.  The carrots were paired with a butternut squash puree (I think), the lettuces with some kind of creamy dressing, and I think the other two involved sweet potatoes and morel mushrooms.  They were all delicious.

After the presentation we broke out into groups to come up with a plan of some sort, and have dinner.  We had no guidance, and of course, it was all just silliness, like the message on this motivational poster they hung up:


Our group came up with important information to share, such as “Silence is golden, and duct tape is silver,” and “a foundation of trust is important, but a trust foundation is better.”  But it was really all about the food at this point.  We were instructed to go pick up our first course, which was bagged up like Chinese take-out:


Inside were three containers:


The first container contained two little cups, one of which was to be poured over the contents of the second, creating a bubbling, popping shooter with frozen watermelon and heaven only knows what else:

012The second container held a delicious beet salad, and the third container had an assortment of things, including a pickled quail egg and champagne grapes.

Next, a dim sum-like cart came around with ramen and sheets of nori to dip in it:


And then there were three more trays, one with beautiful sashimi:


Another with halibut in a coconut sauce that was so good I scarfed it down without taking a picture first, and finally, another tray with an assortment of little bites, including lobster and short rib.


We went back to the meeting room for each group’s “presentation” and some cute little desserts, including mini chocolate cupcakes, homemade Twinkies, and chocolate chip cookies:




The evening was really entertaining, and we met some fun and interesting people.  I was kind of leery of the whole thing at first, but it was a clever and unique experience.  I’m looking forward to checking out the exhibit when it runs September 7 through December 7.