Controversy erupts in S'pore over dining event

As part of the Diner en Blanc flash-mob dinner on Aug. 20, 2012, 3,000 people all dressed in white, descended on the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. (AP photo)

UPDATE (8 August 2012, 2:50pm to add report about the event's public relations issue)

The public relations company that had been tapped to promote Diner en Blanc, a posh pop-up picnic from Paris, has dropped the account, according to the food blogger who had sparked controversy over the event with a post last week.

In a tweet on Monday, Daniel Ang said the PR company has disengaged from working with Diner en Blanc Singapore clients due to "misalignment of views".

Ang earlier told Yahoo! Singapore that the PR company was Thox, and that he did not blame them for the controversy as they had only been acting on their client's insistence.

The issue blazed after Ang wrote in a post on his blog on Friday that he had been asked to remove a post recommending some local food that guests could bring to Diner en Blanc.

Ang said, “Reason according to both the French and local organizers was the local delicacies were not in line with the image of the picnic.”

According to the Singapore website for the event slated for Thursday next week at a secret location, it is a “tres chic picnic imported from Paris and now taking hold in outdoor public spaces in 20 cities across 5 continents in 2012, from Barcelona to New York City, from Montreal to Sydney.

In his first post on the event on Tuesday, Ang said that similar to the Paris version, the only way to attend the event is to score an invite from a friend and to know someone who is attending. Invitees are asked to dress in white.

He recommended that  guests consider bringing 12 Singapore-style white food, namely: tau hway, teochew pau, cheese raisin buns, xiao long bao, chee chiong fun, fishballs, Hainanese chicken rice, white bee hoon, chwee kueh, kueh tu tu, soon kueh and popiah.

“Tau hway is a simple, inexpensive and elegant dessert. Jazz it up to be served on a fine China bowl, and it will look good,” Ang noted in his second post.

“And chicken rice actually needs no introduction, but for good measure, it is Singapore’s signature dish, praised by renowned chef Anthony Bourdain no less, and served in not a few of Singapore’s top hotels,” he added.

Ang also claimed he and other bloggers have been disinvited to the event.

“Reason given was: There is not enough space for people. Do you buy into that reason?” he wrote.

“To both the French and local organisers, my teachers taught me that you do not ‘un-invite’ guests to an event. At least we all know that is being very un-courteous and impolite. Basic manners, isn’t it? Who would have expected – coming from what one would have imagined to be one of the classiest events of the world,” he said.

Also commenting about the controversy in a post titled “Singapore tau huay too low class for French upscale event Diner en Blanc?!”, food blogger Moonberry said she would decline her invitation. In an update, she then said she was also booted from the invitation list.

Both the bloggers, however, felt that the issue was probably due to miscommunication.

In an interview with Yahoo! Singapore, Ang explained that, before writing his original post, he understood that the information guide for the event simply said that guests should bring “quality food”.

He later clarified with the organisers on their Facebook page on what food could be brought. In a post, they said that they do not encourage local food “as the rules and event concept are one and the same”.

“I know a lot of netizens are angry but I’m not. It’s miscommunication that happened and I think every culture should be respected.”

In her post, Moonberry said, “I feel that this tau huay matter is attributed to a grave miscommunication and to a very large extent, a cultural misunderstanding, which can be resolved amicably and not tarnish the joyful intent of this event.”

In an announcement on their Facebook page just past 10pm, the organisers clarified that "Diner en Blanc worldwide welcomes local food as can be seen in many international events both passed and upcoming. Menus in Barcelona, Mexico, Kigali for instance, all include local food."

What is not encouraged, they said, is "fast food", which goes against the multiple course meal concept of the three-hour event.

As guests devote time and energy preparing for the various aspects of the event, we ask that they also devote time and energy preparing their meal as well. The statement was in no way meant to discourage participants from bringing local food. Apologies for the misunderstanding," they added.

In a separate comment, they said that the cancellation of invitation of bloggers and other media is "because of a new space limitation that has just imposed itself, as well as a limited timetable
for the hosts to perform interviews at the media lounge".

Members of the public, however, remained angry over the food event fiasco.

In a comment to the announcement, user
Azmie Øregano said the brouhaha made the organisers look flaky. "The exclusions -well they left a bitter taste in peoples mouth ... and worse of all, the explanation above smells too fishy to be honest.. are we still talking about food here?" the user asked.

User Khavronsteinsus Corprothone Lamborghini said, "If you come to another foreign country, you better show your respect. Insulting our diverse and vibrant local foods and food culture that make us uniquely Singapore is so distasteful, disrespectful and outrageous."

Reacting to the controversy, well-known Singapore blogger mrbrown proposed on Twitter late Friday evening to hold a #MakanDay on 30 August, the same day as the Diner en Blanc event.

"30 Aug is #MakanDay Bring & share food of ANY color as our tastes are diverse. Tell your food's story. Wear off-white (beige or khaki)," he tweeted.