Dîner en Blanc Singapore, a Q&A with Clemen Chiang
Posted on July 25, 2012 by Aun
The first time I had ever heard of Diner en Blanc was when a friend forwarded me one of the many YouTube videos of the 2010 dinner held in the courtyard of the Louvre. Watching it, I was astounded. And I really badly wanted to have been there. It looked like such a fun event. And the concept? Combining great food and wine, sartorial splendor, and a flashmob? Genius. So, when it was announced earlier this year that Dîner en Blanc was coming to Singapore, I immediately signed up. I also (shamelessly) wrote to the organiser, Clemen Chiang, asking him if he could interview for this site. I was thrilled that he said yes.
CH: Can you please tell me a bit more about yourself and your co-organizers?
Clemen: I am a firm believer of “Don’t limit your challenges – challenge your limits!” Presently, it’s on the cover of my Facebook. It shows a surfer scaling great heights amidst the raging waters. That’s the spirit that has kept me alive!
Together with my wife, Nicole Yee, we’ve built businesses over the last 10 years. It’s been a very exciting journey filled with breakthroughs, failures, victories, and humility. To date, I fill my time as a private investor as well as pursuing a higher degree. As for Nicole, she is the founder of CozyCot.com, a leading Singapore’s women’s site.
Nicole and myself are appointed the Host representatives of Dîner en Blanc Singapore. We have a leadership structure comprising of volunteers which include Group Leaders, Bus or Pedestrian Leaders. Together, we harness different skill sets and create the Dîner en Blanc experience for Singapore. Please check out the team here.
CH: How and when did you first come across Diner en Blanc? Which ones have you personally attended?
Clemen: We came across Dîner en Blanc early last year when we saw pictures of the event which our friends posted on Facebook. We were totally mesmerized by the concept and we wanted very much to take part in it. However, the chances of participating in other countries are literally zero. This is because they have a very huge Waiting List and most of the guests are invited through direct friends or friends of friends. We thought to ourselves, “If we can’t take part in it, we might as well run it!” And that’s where the first contact was made with the French owners.
CH: How long have you been working on getting it here? Was it easy or challenging to get Dîner en Blanc to give you the licence to run the Singapore event?
Clemen: It’s a long and rigorous selection process. It took the French owners almost a year of due diligence before they appointed us. In fact, they sent one of their brothers to Singapore to check out our city’s landscape as well as conduct an interview over lunch! You may call it, “À cœur vaillant rien d’impossible.”
CH: The response in Singapore has been amazing. Did you expect so many people to be signing up?
Clemen: It’s been very encouraging to see the tremendous response and especially more so because it’s a very new concept here in Asia as well as in Singapore. The Waiting List has exceeded over 6,000 people and the list is still growing by the day! This came as a big surprise to us as well as to the Paris team. It goes to show that our people love to have fun and are willing to try new experiences.
CH: What’s been the most challenging part of organizing this so far?
Clemen: Initially, we had to overcome naysayers who think it is a “Occupy Wall Street” or “Arab Spring”. So absurd! We even had someone posting on our Facebook who claimed this event is a PAP celebration party. So funny!
The most challenging part is articulating to government officials without leaking the “secret place”. From this experience, we could personally vouch for the fact that Singapore is very well run! We had to seek approvals from four different agencies and get permits for four different licences. It’s mind blowing but it’s been worth every effort!
CH: I know the venue has been kept a secret. But can you let our readers know a little about what criteria went into helping you select the perfect venue?
Clemen: From the Dîner en Blanc website, you will see all the beautiful pictures of different cities filled with amazing city landscapes and happy “white” people. Most of them are held in historical monuments backed with a rich history of culture and tradition. Do we have that special element in Singapore? Will our “perfect picture” be shown on the site where millions of fans are watching?
Filled with a sense of “national duty”, we began our search for the “secret place”. In the beginning, we spent most of our weekends visiting different sites, locations and studying the people mix in those areas. We shortlisted 30 potential “secret places” and these were swiftly narrowed down to three final sites by the Paris team. From their two decades of experience, they could tell almost instantly which location is desirable.
Thereafter, we spoke to these three venue owners to get their feedback as well as gauge their level of commitment to make this the “perfect venue”. All three of them have to put up bids to secure the Paris team’s approval. The final winner was appointed after several rounds of bidding and we are confident that the inaugural event will be the best one yet.
CH: When diners show up, what should they expect? What will be provided by you the organisers and what should they be prepared to bring on their own? Some friends are under the impression that they’ll need to bring their own tables and chairs. Is that accurate?
Clemen: We have pretty strict registration regulations. You have to wear all white. We don’t allow t-shirts, sports tops, coloured sports shoes, baseball caps, or shorts. You have to bring your own square folding table, chairs, tablecloth and picnic basket. You must clean up after yourself. As there will be alcohol at the event, you must be 21 years old to participate. Kids and babies are not allowed. Failure to comply with any of the rules shall constitute sufficient cause for a bus/pedestrian/group leader’s refusal to take you on-site, and you will not be re-invited the following year.
CH: What advice do you have for attendees as they prepare their menus? What kind of foods work best and what kind really don’t work at all?
Clemen: Each table should prepare the following: 1 complete meal comprising of a first course, a cold main course, a cheese and/or a dessert, a bread… Condiments optional. And lots of cheerfulness!
We would suggest to the guests to focus their preparation on dressing their best as we will provide the option of ordering food baskets from us online! Our food baskets are being curated by some very well-known celebrity chefs. These options will be made available online two weeks prior to the event. Once you order them, you’ll be able to pick them up at the secret location on the event day itself.
CH: I see that Perrier-Jouet is the official Champagne. Does that mean that attendees must order Champagne and potentially other drinks from you and your partners, or will they be allowed to BYO?
Clemen: Due to the very strict alcohol licensing, all guests will have to purchase their alcohol through our website (two weeks before the event). On the event date, we will distribute the alcohol based on their online orders at the “secret place”. Guests are not permitted to BYO because when this happens, we cannot control their alcohol consumption. Drunkenness is strictly prohibited!
On this note, we have a selection of champagnes, red wines and white wines. No beer is allowed!
CH: Are you going to be taking Dîner en Blanc around the region? Do you have the rights for that?
Clemen: Yes, we are working with the Paris team to take Dîner en Blanc to five Asian cities namely Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines. We welcome any interested parties to contact us for an initial discussion.
CH: What’s your single greatest hope for the event on 30 August? What’s the one outcome that would really make you smile?
Clemen: Single greatest hope? NO RAIN PLEASE! Everything else is going to be AWESOME!
What would make me smile? It’s when the perfect picture shot of Singapore hosting Dîner en Blanc is shown on the international site. That will give us a chance to share our story with our friends from overseas. A completely fresh perspective of Singapore because a picture paints a thousand words.
Details of the Photo Contest:
For the first time in 24 years of history, Dîner en Blanc presents the Singapore Photo Contest. In a recent announcement by the French Government Tourism Office, Notre Dame Cathedral was the top Paris landmark. And the accompanying picture features the Dîner en Blanc event held in the Grand Old Dame.
Now you have the chance to make Singapore’s history! The secret place has several vantage points that will match the position of top Singapore landmarks. Your photographic skills will be severely tested to articulate this.
We are looking for images that showcase Asia’s first ever Dîner en Blanc, held in Singapore. You can submit a pair of photos that show the best scenario of the event during the day and in the evening, starting from the “white guests” streaming into the secret place.
Photos will be judged on the basis of the following criteria:
1. How well the photo conveys the theme of Dîner en Blanc before and after twilight
2. Photographic quality, visual appeal and creativity of vantage points
3. Originality of concept
The winning photo will enjoy the prestige of earning the admiration of millions if it is selected to front the pages of the Dîner en Blanc Singapore, and also loved by fans of Dîner en Blanc all over the world who are inspired by the winning photo!
Photos courtesy of Dîner en Blanc, taken by, in order from first to last, Navid Baraty, Marie-Joelle, David Curleigh, and Navid Baraty.