DIFFA's Dining by Design

Mon. November 21, 2011 12:00 AM
by Terrence Chappell

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DIFFA (Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS) welcomed guests, the design industry's jet set, and other tastemakers to a wonderland of custom-designed tabelscapes, a table hop cocktail and taste of the city's top restaurants, and a concluding gala.

Although there was no Mad Hatter or Cheshire Cat to help this Alice navigate through DIFFA's whimsical presentation of design installations, but as EFFEN Vodka's community manager, I was able to navigate from tablescape to the next and meet the cutting-edge designers behind them. DIFFA produced a three-day schedule of events that connected the professional design community and their works with other interior design revelers and guests. Claudia Peebles, DIFFA board trustee and co-chair of this year's Dining by Design, trusts that the event's main premise is to raise money to fund charity grants but to also have a good time while doing it to the backdrop of three dimentional interior design art.

"The mission for our Dining by Design event is always to raise money to fund our grants," said Peebles. "All the work we do is to that end but we have a heck of a good time doing it. We hope our events touch peoples souls and hearts, as well as appeal to their love of beauty and fun," continues Peebles.

Cocktails by Design, DIFFA's kick-off event, featured tailored EFFEN cocktails, that complemented the open floor space of the interior design installations; and we're not talking granny's old living room furniture with the plastic on it, not that we don't love our grandmothers! Each tablescape showcased an exclusive theme that invited observers into the designer's creative world. In particular, Tracy Resse designed a stylishly different installation inspired by EFFEN Vodka. Reese believed that her design not only reflected the cool sophistication of the brand but was excited to infuse her own edge into the work.

"I was thrilled to design the EFFEN Vodka installation and to support this important cause. The brand's modern characteristics allowed me to create an installation that represents both the EFFEN brand along with a touch of my own aesthetic," said Reese.

One of my other favorite tabelscapes were by husband and wife design duo Carly Cannell and Jorge Orozco-Cordero of WEETU Corp and in partnership with ERG International. The collaboration's concept took a minimalist approach to fine dining with stainless steel cafeteria style plateware, black leather parallel sitting booths, and an over-arching canopy that enclosed the entire dinner table. The design also featured a flat screen streaming regular people as if they were getting ready in front of the mirror to start their day. Cannell felt that their work reflected DIFFA's mission but could also speak to people from a place of perspective.

"Our intent was to create a tablescape experience inspired by DIFFA's core mission while playing on reflection and perspective," said Cannell. "We often put on different faces to assimilate throughout the day, from riding on the CTA to performing at work to being with family and friends. The mirror has long been a symbolic element of self-reflective searching - and even a tool for preparing ourselves for the outside world," said Cannell.

Now anyone who knows me well knows my two biggest vices; scoring grooming products from 5-star hotels (why lie....even Holiday Inn Expresses and the like aren't safe with me) and food! DIFFA's table hop and taste had the big gurl inside me coming out and greeting all the executive chefs from the top dining destinations in the city. From Zed 451's refined take on famous American's camping past time s'mores to Hubbard street's hot new destination Paris Club's meatballs, I was in culinary ecstasy. Over
twenty restaurants set up shop to offer food and wine pairings. Guests also had the option to participate in DIFFA's silent auction of travel destinations, custom-made furniture, shopping sprees, and more. In particular, a volunteer from Vital Briges, one of DIFFA's grant recipients, won the grand raffle prize, a $10,000 luxury Duxian bed from Sweden. ZED 451's executive chef, Patrick Quakenbush, was excited to offer guests the restaurant's signature menu items that best reflected ZED 451 as a go-to dining destination.

"We chose the DIFFA event because we firmly believe we need to help these kids. It is all about the kids," said Quakenbush. "If we don't do anything to help, how can we expect them to live their dreams, and be great people. So, we will continue to do DIFFA event for as long as they will have us," said Quakenbush.

As an ode to the designers and their dine-in installations, DIFFA closed the three-day venture with a gala that invited guests to dine and mingle at each prospective tablescape. Of course, I joined the rest of the EFFEN crew and guests at Tracy Reese's EFFEN inspired dining design. The EFFEN cucumber infused cocktails were a big hit among guests. The DIFFA gala is truly one of a kind and is one of the hottest tickets in town because guests are not only dining in art, but also dining in the product of a designer's creative drive, work, and above all passion. Mixologists mixed up EFFEN signature cocktails, which was a great addition to Reese's metallic contemporary take on EFFEN as an upscale vodka brand. Truffle Truffle offered a dessert bar of whipping pies, mini cookies, and other sugary delights.

However, I do feel very guilty since I now have a third vice. Since there were no grooming products to store away in my man bag, yes I carry one and to walk away with a whole cornish hen, the gala's savory entree, wouldn't be a cute look, I swiped some extra desserts on my way out after the dinner when the owner, Nicole J Greene, wasn't looking. A dessert bandit in the making!