Val Nehez and Michael Garden are quietly hosting Philadelphia’s most eclectic dinner parties.
Val Nehez and Michael Garden bring together Philadelphia’s cultural, political, and business elite at their Curated Meal parties.
Beyond its worn-out networking implications, “It’s all in who you know” is a phrase with a humble, positive message: Challenge yourself to get out there, start conversations, and develop new ways of working with others. That’s the idea behind one of Philadelphia’s new hidden gems—the Curated Meal.
Conceived by interior designer Val Nehez, of EnnisNehez Architecture & Interior Design, and cohosted with friend and real estate agent Michael Garden of The Garden Collaborative, the Curated Meal is an intimate dinner party where artists, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, and city leaders come together to discuss work, life, and, of course, food. Garden, while a guest at the first Curated Meal in October 2012, realized he had met Nehez through mutual friends 25 years prior, in a restaurant she owned at the time in upstate New York. The rest, as they say, is history. As Garden puts it, “The Curated Meal is like an experiment. It’s what happens when you combine great people with great food, in an architecturally inspiring space.” Adds Nehez, “The Curated Meal is both a gustatory and visual feast, delicious for the eyes and taste buds.”
The feast and meeting of the minds is held inside a circa-1890 church in East Falls, on Indian Queen Lane, renovated by EnnisNehez and home to the firm’s offices, which occupy a portion of the church now entirely used as rentable office space—a beautiful, open floor plan with a long repurposed-wood dining table on the second floor, where the main course is served. Nehez prepares the special gourmet meals a few times a year, for no more than 15 handpicked diners.
Garden’s philosophy that business should be good for the community is essentially what drives the Curated Meal, at which conversation centers on a communal passion for improving life in Philadelphia. Garden and Nehez can already see the spirit of their supper club taking shape: Philanthropists have connected with active local nonprofit organizations, like Art-Reach—which brings art to the underserved—and Friends of the Rail Park—an organization looking to renovate the former Reading Railroad viaduct to become Philly’s answer to New York City’s High Line Park. Moving forward, the duo has opened up aspects of the evening for the other guests to curate, taking turns designing the tablescape and even the guest list.
“The Curated Meal gives us the chance to spend an intimate evening with Philadelphians with whom we might not otherwise cross paths,” Nehez says. “None of the guests know each other at the beginning of the evening, so it levels the social playing field and allows them to open up to each other. Entering as strangers, leaving as friends.”