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When one skeptical partygoer suggested that "Curry is pretty trendy right now," chef Raghavan Iyer was quick to retort: "Yes, but it's been trendy in India for 6,000 years."
Iyer, a Bombay native turned Eden Prairie-based culinary educator and cookbook author, was serving such curried concoctions as tapioca fritters with coconut-seed sauce and saffron-marinated cheese to more than 300 guests at the Minnesota International Center's 15th annual gala benefit, dubbed "Celebration of India," on June 14. Free pours of white and red wines from Sula, a prominent Indian winery, didn't hurt matters.
The mood was worldly and sophisticated. So were the guests, including Hubert Joly, newly appointed CEO of Carlson Companies. Initial logistics were somewhat screwy: Attendees were instructed to park at Orono High School, from which a shuttle bus transported them a mile or so to the home of Tom and Phyllis Colwell, co-founders of the International Center, who had a giant, white party tent pitched on their enormous lawn.
The thick grass was no place for high heels. Many women opted for flat, beaded shoes worn with colorful, embroidered saris and even sparkling bindis on their foreheads. Blond and fair-skinned with rosy cheeks, MIC president Carol Engebretson Byrne looked marvelous in the hot-pink sari personally selected for her by Anju Kataria, owner of Khazana, a global shop on Marquette Av. in downtown Minneapolis.
Kataria and her assistant, Nathan Christopher -- who's also an acclaimed local actor -- dressed up the party's vanilla setting, too. They'd draped all manner of colorful fabrics from the tent's canopy and hung a series of antique Indian textiles near the entrance. Even the porta-potty doors (pictured above) got a flourish: A small drawing of an Indian man in traditional dress was affixed just beneath the words "On Site Sanitation."
Guests bid on a series of Indian-themed silent auction items: dinner with an Indian ambassador, pashmina shawls and a gorgeous, but gaudy, Indian turquoise necklace.
Speakers included Ashok Kumar Attri, the Indian consul general in Chicago. A handsome and trim man in a natty, pinstriped suit, Attri spoke to the healthy relations between Minnesota and India. While he was at it, he couldn't help but indulge in a long-winded joke on the ever-so-unpopular practice of outsourcing.
Soon after, Minnesota's top charity auctioneer, Karen Sorbo, appeared in a turquoise-colored sari (also from Khazana) to take bids for trips to New York, Paris, Montreal, the Bahamas. Meanwhile, dancers from the well-known Minneapolis-based troupe Ragamala, which specializes in Indian dance, were dressing in a nearby barn. Their graceful performance that evening was the highlight of the event, which raised $165,000.
Christy DeSmith is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer.