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Hollywood in spotlight at preview dinner parties
By Karen Edwards
September 2005

Return to Neighborhood Organizations

Photos © John Wilson/CreationCRI

Although some A-list celebrities may look like they’ve missed a few meals, Hollywood does not shy away from food. In fact, it embraces it, even celebrates it in film after film – from the classic Babette’s Feast to the decadent Chocolat. So this year, when the Victorian Village Society cast about for a theme for its preview dinner parties (preceding its Annual Victorian Village Home and Garden preview tour) Hollywood, well, stepped up to the plate.

The $100-per-person preview dinners aren’t cheap (what is in Hollywood?) but they are an excellent value if you plan to participate in all the glamour and festivities of this year’s tour. Your dinner party tickets, for example, will admit you to the Preview Kickoff Party – to be held this year at the recently restored 22-room Corbett House – as well as to the private preview tour itself, which takes place Saturday, September 17, the day before the general tour.

Ray LaVoie, the tour’s marketing chair, gets credit for the Hollywood theme.

“I’ve been a movie buff for as long as I can remember,” he says, so when it came time to think of a theme, he gravitated naturally toward his lifelong interest. “The first movie I thought of was Babette’s Feast,” he says. He listed all of the movies he could remember with food scenes, then finding his list more limited than he liked he searched the Internet Movie Data Base for more examples.

“I expanded the list to include movies with titles that related to food,” he says.

LaVoie took his list of 13 titles to the volunteers hosting this year’s dinner parties. Some added their own titles, and ultimately everyone chose a movie around which they would create their party theme.

There will be nine dinner parties in all, in homes throughout Victorian Village, but also in Italian Village, German Village and Dennison Place as well.

Limited seating
The number of tickets speaks to the exclusivity of the event. Although a total of 116 seats are available, they are snapped up quickly – chiefly by those in the neighborhood, says LaVoie, although guests do come from other parts of the city. “I can’t emphasize enough how much fun these parties are, not only for the guests but also for the hosts. Some of them really go all out.”

Most hosts will reflect their theme in the dinner menu, table settings, even the music.

Then there are hosts who may give only a token nod to theme.

Last year, for example, LaVoie recalls a party he attended hosted by the Italian restaurant Basa Italia.

The theme was “Under the Big Top.”

“We were seated outside under a big tent,” LaVoie says. That’s pretty much where the theme ended. But for LaVoie and the other guests assembled under the “big top” it didn’t matter.

“We enjoyed a five-course dinner that was superb in every way. After the third course, we had to get up and move around just so we could finish the last two courses,” he says.

Other hosts, however, will dig into the theme and mine it for all it’s worth.

Take the dinner party that will be hosted this year by Rob Pettit and Chris Stenger.

This is the first time the two have hosted a party, although Pettit, Victorian Village Society president, has served the annual tour in other capacities, including a stint as the tour’s chair.

Pettit says he looked at LaVoie’s list, but none of the movies inspired him.

“I watch a lot of movies, and one of my favorites is Some Like It Hot,” says Pettit. He suggested it to LaVoie and said he’d like to play off the “hot” aspect of the title.

The movie, of course, is the classic comedy featuring Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis who witness a mob hit and find themselves fleeing their gangster-pursuers as female members of an all-girl band.

“They take a train to south Florida where the rest of the movie takes place,” says Pettit.

As a result, he and Stenger are devising a menu that has a south Florida-Caribbean influence.

Fainthearted: beware
In other words, this dinner will not be for the faint of heart.

Although Pettit was still in the process of planning his menu, he says he will definitely serve a beef tenderloin with a fire and spice rub, as well as a tuna with adobo seasoning. There will be plantains, and maybe coconut rice, but side dishes have not been set definitively.

Although some hosts have their parties catered, Pettit and Stenger will do the cooking themselves, drawing largely from a south Florida cookbook that Pettit has owned and cooked from for years.
“This isn’t an occasion when you want to try dishes for the first time,” says Pettit. “I have already prepared the dishes I’m planning to serve.”

He adds that he and Stenger will carry the south Florida theme throughout the party, possibly in music, table settings, or the flower arrangement.

Pettit has attended previous dinner parties before deciding to host his own. His favorite party so far was several years ago, when the tour’s theme was “City Living” and the preview parties were built on themes reflecting cities around the world. “There was a Tokyo party, a Rio party; it all fit in with the City Living theme,” he says.

Because Pettit enjoys cooking and entertaining, it wasn’t difficult to persuade him to open his house to fellow partiers.

“We’ll invite some friends but we’ll also have people there we don’t know at all,” Pettit notes.

He recalls a party in the German Village area he attended several years ago. He didn’t know anyone there, but he says it didn’t matter. “The parties are that much fun,” he says.

The party is also Pettit and Stenger’s way of giving back to the community, since the money the parties raise goes back to the neighborhood – for beautification projects, like the traffic islands planned for Neil Avenue.

“The islands will help slow down drivers and make them aware they are entering a residential neighborhood, where people walk and jog,” says Pettit.

Some of the money raised from the parties will also go toward plantings at Goodale Park, as well as projects that fall under the supervision of the Short North Neighborhood Foundation.

Other dinners, other parties
Other dinner parties that will be given on the night of September 17 include:

• Babette’s Feast, hosted by Peter Hoff and David Hagelin
• Casablanca, hosted by Rick Gallagher and Robert Gonzales
• Big Night, hosted by Bill Mains
• Like Water for Chocolate, hosted by Ralph and Jan Rosenfield
• Eat, Drink, Man, Woman, hosted by Elena Christophicles and Andy Hall
• Chocolat, hosted by David and Constance Jackson
• Breakfast at Tiffany’s, hosted by Ron Goggans and Jim Butler
• The Birdcage, hosts TBA

LaVoie says all of the party menus will be posted on the Victorian Village Web site so potential guests can scan the menus and decide where they would like to go.

Some dinners will sell out quickly.

“I’d say the hottest ticket is the Gallagher-Gonzales party,” says LaVoie. “A lot of their friends attend, so it’s a difficult party to get into, it sells out quickly. We’ve had people in the past call us and ask specifically for the Gallagher party, and we usually have to tell them it’s already filled.”

Rick Gallagher says if their party fills quickly it may be because they’re happy to take in “problematic guests.”

“We usually have a fish dish, a meat dish, a vegetarian dish, and a poultry dish,” says Gallagher, so when a potential guest calls the Victorian Village Society and reserves a ticket – then explains they are vegetarian or Kosher – they are generally placed at the Gallagher-Gonzales party.

This year’s Gallagher-Gonzales party – which is catered by the way – will be themed around the film Casablanca. That’s partly because one of the film’s major characters is named Rick, like Gallagher, but mostly because Gallagher’s home is decorated entirely in Persian style. Gallagher says he has no special affinity for Casablanca – “it could have been Lawrence of Arabia,” he says cheerfully. But the North African/Persian/ Moroccan theme is vital.

And, admittedly, there may be no other party occurring September 17 that is as entertaining as the one thrown by Gallagher-Gonzales.

“I have lots of entertainment around so guests don’t have to talk to each other if they don’t want to,” says Gallagher with a laugh.

What kind of entertainment? Take a deep breath.

There are belly dancers, bands, occasionally a singer or two, hookahs to smoke, an open bar, henna tattoos to apply, Tarot card readers – and did we mention the snake charmer?

Maybe it’s no wonder the party sells out quickly.

According to LaVoie, however, the no-room-at-the-party news is taken in stride. Guests understand that seating is limited, and that wherever they go, they’re going to have a good time.

Don’t forget
And of course, there is more to the preview than the dinner party.

LaVoie says he has had the privilege of seeing the restored Corbett House, where the preview party will take place, and that it’s “truly a labor of love.”

Randy Carr, who purchased the home after the sudden death of its previous owner, artist Corbett Reynolds, has spent three years restoring the 7,000 square-foot mansion.

“He has dedicated himself to this project, and it shows,” says LaVoie. “Attention was paid to the smallest detail. This house alone is worth the price of the preview ticket.”

Although the Corbett house has been on the annual tour of homes before, the preview party will mark the first time the house has been shown since its renovation.

To give you a quick tour: The 1902 home features three parlors on the first floor, along with a service area, dining room, bathroom and a large gourmet kitchen. The second floor has five bedrooms and a bath, and on the third floor, a grand ballroom, converted into a third-floor apartment by Reynolds, serves as the primary living space for Carr and his partner. It features a master bedroom, guest bedroom, “popcorn kitchen,” bathroom and dressing room. And its large dining/living room looks out on the city skyline and the slate rooftops of their Victorian neighbors. The 1,800 square-foot basement features a second apartment, with original brick walls and cobblestone floor.

You won’t see the home on this year’s tour route, however. It’s only showing will be during the Preview Kickoff Party. Miss that, and you’ll miss Carr’s stunning renovation work entirely.

The preview party, incidentally, will be fully catered this year, says LaVoie. In the past, volunteers have helped provide the appetizers and desserts. “This year, we’ve upped the ante a bit to make the party fare more consistent.”

Victorian Village Tour

Preview Events on Saturday, September 17
– Get a sneak peek inside the Tour homes, enjoy cocktails and appetizers at the Corbett House, then attend one of 10 dinners around Victorian Village and beyond. Held from 4 - 11 p.m.

Home and Garden Tour on Sunday, September 18
– Explore 12 homes and one garden in Victorian Village to see
renovations, rehabs and restorations of the properties that make up this historic district. Held from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m

For more information, or to order tickets, visit or call (614) 228-2912.

© 2005 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. all rights reserved.