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New York society benefit dinners are pretty standard stuff: round tables for 10, speeches, some rubber chicken. But leave it to RoseLee Goldberg, the director of biennial performance art festival Performa, to radically transform the mundane genre — with the help of culinary wizard Jennifer Rubell and sponsor Fendi.


This story first appeared in the November 3, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Amanda Burden, Robert Wilson, Thelma Golden, Cindy Sherman and David Byrne hiked up the stairs to the fourth floor of the X Initiative in Chelsea to find a pile of peanuts on the floor as big as a shed, a table full of glasses and a self-service bar complete with Champagne, tequila, wine, vodka and all the fixings.


Alan Cumming took advantage of the self-service situation to swipe a bottle of sparkling water with his drink. “Well, I have to hydrate,” he said. “I can’t keep these boyish good looks forever.”


One floor down was dinner: honey poured from the ceiling onto a massive stack of ribs. Guests grabbed plates and dug in.


“I’m profoundly happy,” said Mario Batali. “As soon as I walked in and saw the ribs, I felt all warm inside.”


Everyone served themselves wine from water coolers and piled into long banquet tables, scooping out potato and cauliflower salad, green beans and corn souffle from giant steel pots.


Afterwards, Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, Michael Stipe and Terence Koh mingled while guests took hammers to the five Jacques Torres-produced chocolate copies of Jeff Koons’ “Rabbit” sculpture.


And instead of a goody bag, Penn Badgley walked out with something maybe more useful: a pair of kitchen tongs he had stuffed in his back pocket.

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