Heart of America’s ninth annual Sweet Charity event on Monday, June 21 brought a whole new meaning to the term “sugar rush.” Held at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Southwest Washington, D.C., the night of libations and confections featured 60 area award-winning chefs, chocolate fountains, and a chocolate and candy fashion show. Models waltzed down the runway in frocks designed (and sometimes baked) by local pastry chefs.
Sweet Charity benefited The Heart of America Foundation, a national nonprofit that puts books in the hands of children who need them while transforming school libraries in underserved communities into vital centers of learning.
Guests mingled, perused silent auction items, and treated their taste buds for two hours before the awards and fashion show began. Emcees Leon Harris from ABC7/WJLA-TV News and Courtney Robinson from WJLA/News Channel 8 introduced the award winners: Wayne Ryan, principal of the Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus in Washington, D.C., received the Principal of the Year award; Chef Spike Mendelsohn of Good Stuff Eatery received the Albert Uster Chef of the Year award; and Benjamin S. Carson, Sr., M.D., received the National Heroes of the Heart award.
The most anticipated highlight of the evening was the Des Alpes chocolate fashion show, the theme of which was “Literacy on the Silver Screen.” Moderated by WTOP’s “Man About Town” Bob Madigan, models decked out in sweets-inspired costumes posed for cameras while the judges scored the outfits. Linda Kramer Jenning, Washington Editor of Glamour magazine; Martin Howard, pastry chef at Brasserie 8 ½; and Ewald Notter, pastry chef at The Notter School of Pastry Arts, served as the judges.
How did you go about soliciting chefs/restaurants? We have many returning chefs that have been with us for several years who participate and spread the word to new chefs about what a great marketing opportunity this is for them as well as an opportunity for them to give back to the community.
How did you recruit chefs to design the costumes? How/when were they assembled? Word of mouth is our biggest form of recruitment. This event was designed to highlight pastry chefs, and they really enjoy sharing their talent with the guests. Chefs are typically contacted six months in advance with the theme of the show, and a lot of the planning of the chocolate couture takes place just weeks before the event.
What were your main responsibilities in planning this event? What (if anything) did you delegate to others? We work as a team to plan event logistics, registration, silent auction, etc., with the support of great partners such as Syzygy Events, who designs the look of the runway, color scheme, and makes the place beautiful with the help of Digital Lightning and Edge Florals. Many guests feel transcended from a typical ballroom to a beautiful place full of color and elegance because of these three partners – they go above and beyond.
Did you do anything different this year compared with previous years? Was the result better/worse than you anticipated? We are a very young event by Washington standards and are proud that each year our attendance has grown as has the number of books we can purchase for children living in poverty in this area. This year we were able to grow in our level of production as well as offer more interactive experiences for guests compared with past years.
How did you develop the layout for the tasting tables/rooms? Was there reasoning behind putting certain chefs/restaurants/foods next to each other? A lot of our placement of tables has to do with the voltage that the cooking equipment pulls from the power source. We try to work with chefs and figure out what they feel is good placement. In the past when we were a much smaller event and had fewer chefs, it was a big deal to have a chef table in the ballroom compared to the hallway, but now that we have expanded to take over the entire ballroom level and tables in all hallways, it is a much more equal feeling and not so much completion to be placed in a room.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming event planners in the D.C. metro area? Trust your partners/vendors. As the event planner you are there to pull everything together, but each partner has a special skill and they see so many more events behind the scenes then we do. Ask their opinion and involve them in the design process and you will have a much better product at the end of the day.