Our ninth and final Picnic Basket Banter is dedicated to the Art of Public Space–the host and honorary guest of Dîner en Blanc! When we began our search for the perfect spot for the first Dîner en Blanc in Philadelphia, our list was long and we gained an even greater appreciation for how many absolutely beautiful public spaces there are in our city. For this photo shoot at the gazebo behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art, we were assisted by Philadelphia-based artist Katherine Fraser and Brian Cawley and Anna Coyne, members of the Young Friends of the Brandywine Conservancy.
Dîner en Blanc Philadelphia: What is your favorite spot to picnic in Philadelphia?
Katherine Fraser: My roof! I live and work in an old factory building right above Chinatown, and the roof offers a sweeping, 360-degree view of the city and the Ben Franklin Bridge. At sunset it’s absolutely magical.
Brian Cawley: Outside. It has a proven track record.
Anna Coyne: Rittenhouse Square.
DEB PHL: What’s your perfect picnic beverage?
KF: A bottle of chilled Rose; it’s the perfect summer wine, and it pairs well with most traditional picnic foods, like charcuterie.
BC: Well, in the springtime, at steeplechase tailgates, I love a Pimm’s Cup. I have a friend who has perfected them, so, fortunately, I never have to make them… I always know I can count on her.
AC: San Pellegrino Limonata.
DEB PHL: Who would be the most interesting person (famous or historical figure) you’d like to share a picnic with–living or dead ?
KF: Julia Child. She had such an amazing spirit, and she would pack an amazing picnic basket! We would drink too much wine, and eat too much chicken liver mousse, all while laughing our heads off, and sharing funny stories about travel and men.
BC: I would love to share a meal with Dorothy Shaver, the legendary president of Lord & Taylor in the 1940s. Like Coco Chanel, she revolutionized the way American women dress.
DEB PHL: Do you have a favorite picnic memory?
BC: Absolutely… At the Winterthur Point to Point we held a dear friend’s wedding at our hilltop tailgate. It was the most beautiful table setting we’ve ever done. Of course, the ice sculpture was not long for this life! They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and there have been copy-cat weddings. I hope they all have had as much fun as we did.
KF: Picnicking in the woods with my teddy bears as a child.
DEB PHL: What will be on your Diner en Blanc menu? Do you have a favorite recipe you’d like to share?
AC: Since I will be dashing to Diner en Blanc after work, I will be taking advantage of the delicious picnic baskets put together by Garces Catering.
KF: I love to cook, but since I will be traveling back from Boston that day, I won’t have time, so I’ll be hitting Reading Terminal on my way back into town for all of my picnic basket needs; bread, cheese, Italian pastries, local produce, even fresh flowers, all in one stop.
BC: Given that the party is on a weeknight, the menu will be simple. If you want all of my secrets, you’ll have to kiss the cook…
DEB PHL: If you needed to put together a picnic basket for two in less than 30 minutes, what would you make/buy?
KF: I like to keep things simple, and a little rustic. Homemade chicken salad, a loaf of crusty olive bread from Metropolitan Bakery to tear apart with your hands, cherry tomatoes, and a wedge of good cheese.
BC: Some dark brown toast points, smoked salmon, a grainy mustard sauce, a silver platter, two of my favorite Wedgwood plates, some glasses, napkins, and a bottle of champagne.
AC: I would head into DiBruno Brothers, pick up cheeses, crackers, olives, some cured meats and crusty bread, then head to Sue’s Produce Market and pick up grapes and whatever fresh fruit looks ripe!
DEB PHL: What non-food items are always included in your picnic basket?
BC: A bottle opener. You only make that mistake once.
AC: A bottle opener and a picnic blanket
KF: I always prefer to bring real dishes, and glassware. Disposable stuff can make an otherwise beautiful picnic feel like you’re slumming it. Sometimes it’s fun to pack a frisbee, or a board game like Scrabble or Backgammon.
DEB PHL: If you were planning the first Diner en Blanc event in Philadelphia what would be your outdoor public space of choice be?
AC: Benjamin Franklin Parkway
KF: I would hold it in Washington Square. It’s such a beautiful park, and it’s always been the under-appreciated step-sister to Rittenhouse.
DEB PHL: What do you plan to wear and what will be the hardest part about putting together your Diner en Blanc outfit?
BC: We have a choice about what to wear? Have you read the rules??
AC: I am planning to wear a knee length cotton Kay Unger dress paired with Coach shoes accented by some white costume jewelry of my grandmother’s. She would have been thrilled to come to Diner en Blanc. Absolutely the hardest part will be to keep my dress clean and white!
KF: I found my dress and shoes pretty easily, but am still looking for an unusual accessory. I’m really hoping to find a fascinator, or a fabulous vintage hat.
DEB PHL: What’s your favorite thing about Philadelphia?
KF: I love the restaurant scene and the art community here, but something I really value and believe to be fairly unique is the eight-mile jogging path that loops behind the Art Museum.
BC: Watching the seasons change in the Brandywine Valley. I am in awe of the artistic heritage it has inspired.
AC: While it’s the 5th largest city in the nation, it feels like a cluster of much smaller communities with talented and connected people pursuing their passions.
DEB PHL: What is your favorite restaurant in Philadelphia?
AC: That’s a tough question because I love discovering new places in Philadelphia. But some of my long time favorites are Ray’s Cafe and Tea House, Zahav and Butcher and Singer.
KF: Osteria. Not only is the food amazing, but the service never disappoints. (As an ex fine-dining server, my service standards are really high).
BC: I have to go beyond the city limits for this one… and tell you that I can not wait for Buckley’s Tavern in Centreville, DE to reopen. I have had more fun with more friends there than anywhere else.
DEB PHL: If you were to plan “the perfect day” of things to do for someone who was visiting Philadelphia for the first time, what would their day look like from start to finish?
KF: An early morning yoga class at Dhyana followed by coffee and a croissant at La Colombe. Shopping at the boutiques and used bookstores in Old City. Lunch at Parc for the beautiful view and people-watching. Afternoon tours of the Rodin Museum and Eastern State Penitentiary. Happy hour at Oyster House, a blue cheese-stuffed burger at Good Dog, and then Jazz at Time or Chris’s.
AC: I would start with a breakfast on the go comprised of coffee and pastry from La Colombe, spend the morning visiting a couple of historic sites in old city – Elfreth’s Alley, Powel House, Headhouse Square and window shopping along the way. From there head to the Italian Market and browse the shops and either grab a slice of tomato pie at Sarcone’s or a bowl of Pho on Washington Ave. I would head to Rittenhouse Square and a table outside for drinks, enjoy a meal of shared plates with friends at Tinto and then hunt out a bar with some live music.
BC: I am “Uncle Brian” to more than a few of my friend’s kids… One of the most fun days we’ve had in the city is taking their children to the Christmas Light Show in the Grand Court. Seeing their faces light up at the finale is one of the best parts of the holiday season. Afterwards, we head to the lobby of the Ritz for a glass of holiday cheer. I look forward to it every year.
Brian Cawley and Anna Coyne are both Executive Committee members of the Young Friends of the Brandywine Conservancy. Brian is Visual Director for Lord & Taylor, America’s oldest department store and Anna is Head of Practice Management and Analytics at Lincoln Financial Distributors, a member of Lincoln Financial Group.
Katherine Fraser, local artist, grew up in mid-coast Maine, but was lured to Philadelphia by the opportunity to study painting at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. After completing the painting program, and also getting her BFA from UPenn, she spent many years suffering the classic situation of trying to make art while waitressing in fancy restaurants part time. Two years ago she was finally able to retire her pantyhose and Dansko clogs in favor of painting full time, and still feels the need to pinch herself daily at her good fortune to able to make a living at the thing she was born to do. In the tradition of the Academy, her work is realistic and figurative, but her interest lies more in story telling than in representation. When she is not painting, she can often be found running, doing yoga, entertaining friends, or roller-skating around the warehouse.