Anyone who has known me professionally for the past 10 years as a wedding planner is very aware of one thing I am vehemently dedicated to: The National Association for Catering and Events. (NACE)
NACE is how I truly got my start in the event industry. I owe not only a majority of the business I’ve earned, but also a vast majority of the friendships I’ve fostered to NACE. It’s my family. And I love to give back each year. The most impactful way that I’ve been able to do that is to participate in the Annual Fundraiser.
This year, I felt the best way to participate in the event was to participate in the Design Challenge. The theme of the event was “Dine & Drink Around the World,” so the entire event would showcase a variety of cuisines, entertainment, and decor from around the world. Plan It Perfect paired up with Chef’s Expressions and Lanterna Wines to produce 144 square feet of pure ITALY!
But first, let me tell you a bit more about this event.
The most important thing is that it’s a fundraiser. The proceeds are allocated to three different organizations: The Baltimore Chapter of NACE (educational funding), the Foundation of NACE, and a local food-related charity. This year, our non-profit partner was City Seeds.
The event consists of three parts: Cocktail hour, dinner & design challenge, and after party with desserts. The design challenge is the most excited aspect of the event, and is – quite honestly – the real draw, year after year. The designs are always over-the-top, and feature elements most people have never seen before. It’s definitely a “go big or go home” kind of thing.
Here’s a little tour of the event and some of my favorite parts:
We were led from the Brazilian cocktail hour by scantily-clad Brazilian dancers.
At dinner, there were five culinary experience stations:
MOROCCO: Caterer – The Classic Catering People; Designer – Select Event Group; Beverage – VDKA6100
INDIA: Caterer – Eleven Courses; Designer – Event Pro; Beverage – Lyon
(Because of my connection with Ananda Restaurant, Melissa from Eleven Courses was nervous for me to try their food. It was adorable. But, honestly, I thought it was super delicious!)
COSTA RICA: Caterer – Copper Kitchen; Designer – Event Revolution; Beverage – Southern Spirits
VIETNAM: Caterer – Absolutely Perfect; Designer – Conference Direct & Hyatt Place Baltimore; Beverage – Baltimore Whiskey
ITALY: Caterer – Chef’s Expressions; Designer – Plan It Perfect (THAT’S US!); Beverage – Lanterna
So the title of this blog was probably a big spoiler, but… WE WON! I can’t believe it. I mean, I REALLY can’t believe it. See how skeptical I was? Check out these texts I exchanged with my BFF:
Our station was the least exotic location, and the simplest design. Historically, the winner of the design challenge at this event is the one that’s the most over-the-top. Forget functionality, you’ve got to WOW people! You’d think I’d understand how to “play the game” by now, after being a part of these fundraisers for so long. But I just wanted to design something authentic and accurate. Having spent some time in Italy (I studied abroad in Florence for a summer in college) I have a great understanding of what the restaurant experience is like. So we collaborated with Chef’s Expressions to design a true Italian restaurant experience. I constructed a restaurant facade with a window for viewing the hand-made pasta. In front of the restaurant was al-fresco dining at a bistro set that was surrounded by boxwoods and custom railings. We even brought in our own flooring that resembled slate pavers!
Here are some of our inspiration photos:
Although we were the true underdogs of this competition (I seriously thought we had NO chance!) here are the top reasons (I’m assuming) why our station won:
Anastasia (my assistant) and Anna (Chef’s Expressions Director of Marketing) were campaigning for votes. About 20 minutes before voting concluded, we were the only station with ZERO votes! They hustled and brought in the votes!
People got the word that the whole display was hand-built by Yours Truly! That earned us a view votes, too.
The award was technically called the “Best International Experience.” Our station was the most accurate at portraying an experience you might have in that country. From the Al Fresco dining, to the pasta maker through the restaurant window, and our station was the only one that guests could go into. It was a like being at a restaurant in Florence!
We were the only station where you could see the chefs cooking. Everyone else was cooking behind a curtain and bringing the food out. That interactive experience is really exciting!
On top of winning the Design Challenge, we got “SNAP’d” (scroll down to see the Plan It Perfect girls)