Forget the usual rubber-chicken fundraiser the second annual No Tie Dinner combines good food with a good cause
Having a reputation as a terrific dinner-party host turned out to be a blessing and a curse for Dennis Kershner.
The spacious kitchen and sit-down wet-bar in the Oak Cliff home Kershner shares with his partner, John Moreno, invites lots of use, and weekends there were meant for entertaining. So when AIDS Services of Dallas asked him a few years ago to help built a series of fundraising dinner parties, he quickly agreed.
He’s now in his second (and he says, final) year as chair of the No Tie Dinner. And even though it isn’t a dressy affair, it still occupies a lot of his time.
“After being a chair for a whole year, I told them last year I don’t know if I have the strength to do it again,” he says. But he was finally convinced, and glad he has been able to see the event blossom.
“First-year events are always the hardest, but this year we’ve doubled the amount of dinner-hosts and invitations,” he says.
AIDS Services of Dallas was looking for a way to throw a fundraiser without incurring huge overhead costs associated with feeding people and providing entertainment.
“We asked, “‘What do we like to do the best?’ Anything we do on the weekends has to revolve around food and beverages and our good friends. What a better concept than to invite your friends, plan a meal, have good drinks,” Kershner says. “It’s on a much grander scale but not all that different than what we do every weekend.”
The concept was to decentralize the event into many smaller, grassroots events, which culminate in a single gala. Hosts volunteer to prepare a meal and invite their friends over for dinner, followed by dessert, this year at the Frontiers of Flight Museum. For 2007, some 20 separate parties are being held, ranging from eight invited guests to one that has invited 400. That’s a lot of leafs in the table.
“People in Dallas don’t understand the concept of the RSVP,” Kershner says. “Last year for the dinner party at our own house, we invited 150, got 25 RSVPs and had 100 show up. This year we invited 400. I told John, if we have 400 people show up, I’ll slit my wrists.”
All along, they knew the style would be casual and that they would start off small. It was Don Maison, head of ASD, who came up with the idea of calling it the No Tie Dinner, “because we’re certainly not in the league of Black Tie,” Kershner recalls. “We all liked that. We want it to be casual and for everybody to be able to afford to come the price for the entire event is $35. There’s no other event like this that you can attend for just $35.”
And because there’s no a single kitchen trying to feed hundreds of diners at the same time, the No Tie Dinner benefits from variety not just a selection of chicken of fish, but a wholesale difference in cuisines.
The food offered at each dinner differs depending on the whims of the host.
One has chosen the theme “take me out to the ballgame,” and has rented popcorn and hot-dog machines and will serve lots of beer. Another is sticking with Texas barbecued brisket, sausage and ribs. Kershner and Moreno are going for Tex-Mex, with enchiladas, rice and beans and guacamole, all of which Moreno will cook himself. (“We’re having friends come over Friday night to help us roll our 400 enchiladas,” Kershner says.) Some parties have even opted for more upscale, sit-down and/or catered dinners.
Those who don’t know a host personally can still attend. If you’re not invited to a dinner, Kershner says, you can call the office at ASD, they can direct you to a party. And everyone is entitled to attend the dessert portion of the evening. Sweets will be provided by several notable restaurants, caterers and markets, including Central Market, Nodding Dog Coffee House, Whole Foods Market, Salum and Stephan Pyles.
“I can’t even remember all I ate last year, but they were all elaborate it looked like you went into a bakery,” Kershner says. “The Hotel St. Germain is well-known for their desserts which are fabulously delicious and pretty to look at, too. And Dallas Affaires is making this absolutely beautiful cake like you’d have at a wedding.”
His only refinement this time around: Asking the pastry chefs to reduce portion sizes.
“Last year they went so all-out, you ate a few bites from one and couldn’t sample the others,” he says. “This time we asked them to scale down so we could enjoy more desserts from everybody.”
Dinners start at 5 p.m. Saturday; dessert at 8 p.m. at the Frontiers of Flight Museum, 6911 Lemmon Ave., with silent auction and raffle for a 2007 Honda CR-V. AIDS Services of Dallas, 214-941-0523 or Aidsdallas.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 09, 2007