If any onlookers were to peek into the Lemont home of Ron and Sue Smith recently, they would’ve seen a cozy and altogether welcoming sight — a group of just more than a dozen guests, chatting in small bunches as glasses of wine are poured and a plate of appetizers are passed. Wafts of mouthwatering scents emanate from the kitchen.
However, these comrades about to embark on a culinary journey are not longtime friends, as one would think just by looking at the room. Rather, they’ve almost all just met, all guests joining together for a jovial evening of dining, drinks and good conversation, within the dining room of their gracious hosts. The gonging of a bell announces the upcoming meal as they begin to gather around a pristinely set table, complete with antique tableware, and the chef himself delivers a Chinese blessing upon what is to come.
So why the extravagant show for guests who aren’t even your closest friends? The affair is part of the Twilight Dinner series, where hosts plan and “donate” an evening of fun for their guests. Proceeds from the event, at $100 per guest, go to the Centre County Women’s Resource Center. One night can result in a total gift of more than $1,000 for the nonprofit that is dedicated to fighting domestic violence and assault. The series is coordinated by the Twilight Dinner Committee, with guests vying for spots at the most popular dinners of the year.
During the April 1 dinner at the Smiths’ home, guests were served a 10-course feast rooted in Shanghai traditions, prepared by guest chef Ying Wushanley and his wife, Geraldine. The couple have been annually serving this meal in the Smith’s home for more than two decades, and travel from out of town to do so. The large quantity of fresh ingredients (some more recognizable than others) and kitchen prep required early arrival, and the two began preparing the evening beforehand, with the first batch of fresh spring rolls hitting the plate just as guests started to arrive.
Wushanley follows what he considers the three columns of Chinese cooking — color, scent and taste, all critical components of a well-done dish.
The mise en place itself was a work of art — all chopped veggies, various proteins and perfectly portioned ingredients aligned in their assorted dishes, most familiar, but also some brand-new. If you think that the array of wood ear fungus, traditionally found in Chinese cuisine, is a little out of your normal diet, wait until you see what’s sliced up in the other room. The thousand-year egg, sliced and situated nicely on a serving dish, is a delicacy created by preserving duck eggs over the course of several weeks or months, until they turn dark gray, with a strong, one-of-a-kind flavor.
The Smiths’ Shanghai feast was just the first dinner of the season, with another taking place Sunday, and more to come through the end of June. Interested guests can inquire about next week’s “Surf and Turf” dinner in Boalsburg, or enjoy one of two “progressive dinners” that take guests on culinary tours — one of downtown State College restaurants (June 1) and the other of Sterns Crossing homes and patio spaces (June 3). Additional upcoming options include a relaxing evening on the patio at the Schreyer House, a music-filled Twilight Happy Hour at Cafe 210 West and a gourmet pizza night in Port Matilda, featuring multiple wood-fired ovens in an al fresco atmosphere.
For more information on how you can reserve your spot at an upcoming Twilight Dinner, visit ccwrc.org or call 238-7066.
Holly Riddle is a freelance food, travel and lifestyle writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.