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Party Line

Blowout Benefit


For dinner, guests descended steps into an excavation site decorated with hidden treasures and mummies, some of whom later sprang to life to dance and announce the auction.

The seating was anything but banquet-standard. Some tables held flowing water fountains, others were low-slung with Ottoman seating or bar-height with stools. Jewels, treasures and dramatic tableware gave a whiff of exotica in a scene filled with lighting effects, music and subtle spices. Chilean sea bass and braised short ribs shared plates with couscous with edamame and sweet-potato baskets filled with bouquets of field greens.

"There were a lot of firsts for Richmond," Holland says of the details, "like Cleopatra surrounded by hanging towers of desserts, and the mobile buffets and online bidding during the silent auction."

He credits colleague Ryan Traylor, Magic Special Effects and Party Perfect with helping pull off the 725-seat production. Work's already begun for next year's event, with a theme involving pirates and monkeys.

"Feast" for the Senses

A group gathered at sunset on the upstairs terrace outside VMFA's marble hall Friday, April 28, sipping champagne and a milky white drink of colonial origins. It wasn't the typical museum gathering. It was "An Evening of Dining Elegance," planned to promote the museum's "Feast" exhibit, one of a series of shows created to highlight the permanent collection while the museum undergoes renovations.

The group of about 120 included several museum staffers, board members Pam Reynolds and Charlotte Minor, and Lora Robins, who donated the new sculpture garden that will eventually sit atop the underground parking garage now under construction. The event also attracted many new faces to the museum, according to a development associate, likely because of the lure of food and wine.

The evening included a four-course meal — carrot vichyssoise, salmon with salsa verde, leg of lamb and a salad of mesclun and fresh herbs — served at tables in the marble hall. Food historian Alexandra Leaf took the podium to enlighten the lively crowd on the historical significance of such dining traditions as the napkin (which comes from the French word nappe, meaning "tablecloth"). Several tables preferred to chat and snicker than listen to the slightly dry presentation, but all seemed to enjoy the tasting and discussions of the offbeat wine pairings.

The foods were simple and wines outspoken: A crisp Tuscan white was paired with the thick, subtle vichyssoise. Unfortunately, the second course's salmon arrived dry, no doubt suffering from the mass-cooked banquet setting, but its parsley-driven salsa verde offered the right zip. The leg of lamb with large beads of Israeli couscous and string beans with a nice demi-glace was simple but strangely paired with a too-heavy red blend from Bordeaux. Since Leaf wasn't involved in the wine choices, it was disappointing she wasn't able to comment on the choices.

Instead Leaf spoke of the medicinal purposes of food and spice in Elizabethan times. Sherbet came from the Middle East, for example, and dessert originally meant "to unserve or undress the table." In keeping with the original custom of serving dessert, the group moved down the hall for an elaborate dessert buffet of truffles, cakes, cheeses and more champagne. It was followed by a self-guided tour of the "Feast" exhibit, which features work that falls into the categories of abundance, indulgence, the hunt and the kitchen, including still-lifes of fruit, an 18th-century Indian watercolor of hunters and Campbell's soup boxes by Andy Warhol.

At $75 for members and $90 for nonmembers, the event was a bargain and sold out quickly. Next time the museum might consider a host with fewer impressive credentials and more gusto. — Carrie Nieman

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