I photograph dinners at the The James Beard House in New York about once a month, and it's quite a treat. If you ever have a chance to go, I'd highly recommend it. The Beard House is located in a great old brownstone on West 12th Street. The kitchen is small, but anyone who is invited to cook a meal there is honored. Chefs from the best restaurants in the country fly in to prepare a special meal for anywhere from 50-100 people, who have usually purchased tickets months in advance. This happens several times a week and is about $100 a head, depending on who's in the kitchen.
This week I hung out in the kitchen for a few hours while the Chefs of Tamarind, an Indian restaurant in NYC, cooked for about 50 people. Having worked in restaurants, I know what a stressful place the kitchen can be. But the beauty of this kitchen is that the Chefs are always in a good mood and just so excited to be there that they're happy to let guests come through and ask questions and even sample the goods. As a vegetarian, usually it's a bit tricky for me at these things, but the Tamarind chefs were more than happy to make me something special- stuffed eggplant, one of the best Saag Paneers I've ever had (and I've been to India!), and these amazingly unexpected pasta-less dumplings.
The evening always begins with a champagne reception (outside in the garden if weather permits, otherwise in the atrium overlooking the garden) and then everyone moves upstairs to the dining room for several courses, which are always paired with impeccable wines (a rep from the winery usually talks about the selection). At the end of the meal, the Chefs come out and answer questions and talk about what has been prepared.
It's a fun evening and a great alternative for a nice meal out. I encourage you all to try it!