A fundraising dinner in Beechwood Cemetery for Partage Vanier

Businesses and friends gather for a dinner to raise funds for Partage Vanier, which serves part of  Ottawa-Vanier’s riding where residents call upon foodbanks more often than the rest of Ontario

Mirrored on last year’s very successful “Poets” run by Secret Dinner Ottawa, the Vanier BIA and Beechwood Cemetery are once again joining forces with Secret Dinner and Fraser Cafe to host a unique fundraising dinner on August 22, 2019.

In July, Feed Ontario published a “hunger map” that looked at food bank usage across the province. In Ottawa-Vanier, 15 per cent of residents in the riding visited a food bank during 2018. The number of visits totaled 80,332.

Nathalie Carrier, the executive director of the BIA, says that data is especially frightening because if you remove the residents of very affluent neighbourhoods in that catchment the numbers are staggeringly higher.

She adds “when we saw the news last week we immediately called on our friends at Beechwood, Secret Dinner and Fraser’s to see if we could pull off a dinner again but this time as a fundraiser. Everyone jumped on board without hesitation.”

Her lips are sealed on what will actually be served, but is happy to report this event centres on supporting the local food bank, Partage Vanier and the vitally important role they play in the community. “We know the Chef Fraser will work his magic and serve up a dinner to remember” she adds.

Helena Arruda, director of counselling and community services at Partage Vanier says “our food bank serves the province’s most vulnerable people and every little bit helps. It’s great that the business community is contributing to our efforts in this unique way.”

The idea to host the event was born out of the success of the actual Secret Dinner Ottawa event held at Beechwood Cemetery last year.

“We are part of this community and have been serving this community since 1873 (Beechwood) and it’s important to be able to give back in a meaningful way,” says Nicolas McCarthy, director of communications and marketing at Beechwood Cemetery. “We are proud to be able to use our facilities, our groups and our partnership to help out the community and continue to build it together.”

With the event fast approaching, Carrier said she is still hoping other business members will want to get involved, whether it be purchasing tickets or participating in the event in their own capacity.

Tickets are $150 per person and include a $50 charitable receipt. To purchase tickets or for more information, please contact the Vanier BIA.

Secret Dinner expands to Montreal Road in Vanier

Vanessa Fidelis had lived in Ottawa for almost 15 years. An avid traveler and curious person, she was beginning to feel like she was in a rut.

But in the fall of 2017, something sparked an idea in her mind – a communal dinner, hosted at an unconventional location, featuring a menu by a local chef. Everything except for the mysterious theme would be left unknown until the last-minute reveal.

The first secret dinner was held in December 2017, outdoors in La Peche -17-degree weather. Nineteen people sat at a long table in a location that had been revealed to them only upon arrival, discovering a menu none of them had seen before.

Vanessa and her fiance, Zach, had brought their friends to that table hoping the experience would spark new friendships and a renewed curiosity for what Ottawa has to offer. The idea worked.

“We just kind of ran with it,” says Vanessa, who has years of event management experience already. Now, every corner of Ottawa is a possible location for the next secret dinner.

“We’ll do no theme twice, and no location twice,” she says. The pair push the chefs they partner with to think out of the box, giving them the creative reins and letting the themes guide the finished product.

Past themes have included Smoke and Shine, which was held at a Christmas tree farm in June, and The Poets, held in July at Vanier’s Beechwood Cemetery.

Several dinners later, the pair are preparing to move the Secret Dinner operations from their home into an office at the heart of Vanier on Montreal Road.

Why Vanier? Vanessa says the dinner at Beechwood Cemetery opened her up to the community and made her feel like it was the right place to be.

She says the Beechwood Cemetery is one of the best-kept secrets in Ottawa, even for locals.

“I had no idea that this cemetery was what it was,” she says. The national cemetery is the final resting place of more than 5,000 soldiers and includes a “poets’ corner” of well-known writers that inspired the theme for the dinner. It also has one of the last unobstructed views of Parliament in the city.

For the dinner, they kept things even more local than usual. Chef Warren Sutherland of Beechwood Avenue’s Sutherland Restaurant was responsible for the Jamaican-inspired menu. Local social enterprise Eco Equitable made the napkins from recycled materials, Queen B’s supplied peanut-free macaroons, Harvest Honey brought honeycomb to the menu, and more – all Vanier businesses and people, who Vanessa says were eager to bring their energy and work to the event.

That welcoming enthusiasm is what convinced her and Zach to move in when the opportunity arose, with the hopes of building on the connections they made and growing Secret Dinner’s reach.

“What’s good for Vanier is good for Ottawa,” says Vanessa. “Everywhere you look in Ottawa, people are willing to help, and people are willing to get on board … Every single day I am surprised and I am shocked at how cool this city can be.”

Secret Dinner is now offering private events as well, which Vanessa hopes will make it a more sustainable venture.

“We know what we have ahead of us, and we know what we’ve done in the past, and I think we have all the information we need to execute some really amazing dinners,” she says.

Vanessa says she hopes the secret dinners help open participants’ eyes to all the interesting things happening in Ottawa that often get overlooked.

“There are these crazy, cool little places in Ottawa … and I think Vanier is really jumping on that bandwagon,” says Vanessa. “There’s so much here. Why don’t we showcase it?”