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Excerpted from the September/October 2002 issue of the ICA's bi-monthly newsletter, The CommuniCater.

The Bacchanalian Feast - a Gala Evening of Gods and Goddesses and Grapes!

By Christine Emerson
en Ville Event Planning and Catering
Toronto, Canada

Anticipating that the Gala would be an evening of good food and good wine and good company, who would've expected the absolute spectacular experience of being transported almost 2 millennia back to 2nd century Rome whilst in the Warehouse district of New Orleans?

From this historical perspective the notes placed at each setting read:

"To their religious performances, the ancient Romans added the pleasures of wine and feasting, to allure a greater number of proselytes . . .The Romans laid a vast stress on the joys of eating. Probably never before or since has greater effort been expended upon gratifying the palate."

I beg to differ please… the Bacchanalian Feast gratified our palates and senses. (FYI, I did look up proselyte in the dictionary - it is a person converted from one opinion, creed, party etc to another.)

It began with a cocktail reception in the anteroom, and then dinner was announced. A momentary pause followed by a surge of curious caterers eager for a new experience, a new theme, a new look. To describe it one needs a word a hundred times more vivid than dazzling -- a moment when one is transported back in time to 186 A.D., nestled within the Seven Hills of Rome, at Caesar's table.

The look was stunning. Running the length of the dining room was a low table covered with lush fabrics in sumptuous red, purples, and golds. Pedestal urns were filled with hundreds of roses, and the table was blanketed with grapes, vines, bowls of fruits, pillar candles of every size and height, and pillows strewn about on the floor for dinner seating. Guests lounged on the pillows and were fed grapes by gold-clad gods and goddesses, in the classical pose. Surrounding the low table was formally set rounds of 8 for those who preferred a more conventional seat.

The guests were dressed in Togas - many looking suspiciously like 72 x 72-inch white tablecloths tied together. Here and there was a splash of purple - perhaps a 120-inch round satin cloth from the breakfast tables that morning? Tonight we were not caterers, but Romans, Friends and Countrymen.

Cleopatra of the Nile lounged on the daybed, taking a day off from her catering business in Birmingham while Cleopatra of Nyack on the Hudson left her husband and 5 little Romans at home to really let loose! Russell was one of the tallest Romans in the room with his head crowned with laurel, in his tablecloth with his nipples painted gold. Madame President shocked us by not wearing a pink toga but was recognizable by her clear cha-cha shoes. Jack went black in time and appeared with jet-black hair instead of his natural blonde coif. David was a soldier (looking good in a skirt) and lined up a few dead soldiers of his own. Tim was in gold lamé and red, blending perfectly with the linens. Florence was slinky in silver and John wore a headdress of precious stones, while Yves in slinky harem style pants and bare tanned bronze chest won our vote for best-undressed.

There was a surprising sighting of Elvis Purpura…on the dance floor, at the bar…now you see him, now you don't. Tom and Ron were gladiators and managed to work some leather into their costumes. But all this gold and glitter paled when you feasted your eyes on the lovely Steve Kemble, in blue hair, purple cape, stylish cocktail length dress and cream court shoes. This was Jackie O meets Marge Simpson while looking for Caligula.

And of course, we ate, and ate, and ate. The Bacchanalian feast began with Fruits of the Sea - stuffed Calamari with White Wine Sauce served with Fried Spinach and Roasted Tomatoes, and Blue Crabs with Artichoke atop wild greens with a Chive-Garlic Beurre Blanc. Opulent platters were set on each table for self-indulgence. The Bacchanalian main course was a carnivore's delight - Roulade of Turkey with Rice Dressing and Wilted Greens, and Roast Suckling Pig with Apricot Rosemary Glaze, Mashed Sweet Potatoes, and Grilled Apples and Pears. All accompanied by (need I say it?) vast quantities of wine, the nectar of the gods, made by old Bacchus himself.

Dessert was rich and refreshing in that the ancient epicures did not have sugar so we splurged instead on cheese, breads, and fresh and dried fruits.

After dinner we bade farewell to our outgoing ICA president Dougal before our new President Deb Lykkemark was carried in on a lectus to accept the Scepter of Command of the (now Roman) empire. Then the dance floor was electric with the music of Rockin' Doopsie - one of New Orleans most popular dance bands. This was no 2nd century A.D orchestra! If you weren't dancing, you were at the bar, and if you weren't at the bar you were lounging on the pillows doing the grape thing. I'm sure some guests are still there.

Was it fabulous? Yes. Was it over the top? Yes. Was it too short? YES!

And it could not have been accomplished without the support and generosity of our Bacchanalian Feast Event Sponsors whom we praise: Twi-ro-pa the old rope factory was the venue; Joel's Catering in New Orleans for the creative foods, Legendary Events of Atlanta for the Props and Design; A-1 Tablecloth Company in Hackensack, NJ donated organza and CHL Linens of New Orleans provided the luscious linens; Distinctive Party Design in New York City gave us drop-dead gorgeous roses; and let us not forget Perrier Party Rental in New Orleans who provided event rentals; Event Lighting Distributors of New Orleans who arranged the lighting, and Creative Candles of Kansas City who set the mood with the candles. What fabulous support we have from our sponsors!

A Big thank you too to Ewa Ojarovska, our Conference Chair, who wins our admiration for making this event possible. However, all these people and all their things need a Genius, a Visionary, a Creative Spirit to envision it, plan it and execute it, and for that we thank Tim Lundy, CSEP of Distinctive Design Events and event god of gods, who put his heart and soul into creating a Bacchanalian Feast for our hearts and souls.

It on all accounts -- was certainly a night to remember!

Don't want to miss out on next year's conference in San Francisco, register NOW click here or call the Washington ICA office at 888.604.5844. You can also fax the conference registration form to 202.973.5371.