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Community center transformed into bistro for formal dinners

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Beverly Fields, a program specialist at the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District, spent her own money, and secured her own network of volunteers to create a formal dining experience for women at Tom Brown Village. (Joseph D. Bryant photo, special to The Times).

By Joseph D. Bryant

Housing Authority of the Birmingham District

Beverly Fields, a program specialist at the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District, spent her own money, and secured her own network of volunteers to create a formal dining experience for women at Tom Brown Village. (Joseph D. Bryant photo, special to The Times).
Beverly Fields, a program specialist at the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District, spent her own money, and secured her own network of volunteers to create a formal dining experience for women at Tom Brown Village. (Joseph D. Bryant photo, special to The Times).

For a few hours one recent afternoon, the Tom Brown Village Community Center, was transformed into a high-end restaurant.

The eight women were already engaged in small talk when the server walked into the candle-lit room.

“In two minutes dinner will be served,” she announced.

This was no longer the Tom Brown Community Center, but rather, “Le Tom Brown Bistro,” overlooking a lit streetscape.

“We changed our name today,” said Beverly Fields, motioning toward the sign just above the city scene she created on the wall, lined with blue lights.  “I tried to bring downtown to us.”

Fields, a program specialist at the community center, designed, planned and hosted the bistro as a neighbor-outreach.

For months she had worked to perfect her vision of delivering a first-class experience to the women of Tom Brown Village. The dinner came after two weeks of etiquette classes. This was the day to put them into tasty action.

Walking into the room, visitors were transported by Fields to another place as she hosted the dinner complete with round tables, white tablecloths and meals served on her own formal dinnerware.

The menu included hasselback potatoes, asparagus wrap and port sirloin with organic seasoning and drizzled with a cranberry and balsamic reduction sauce. Dessert was a chocolate mousse frappe with raspberries and whipped cream.

Guests even had a choice of green tea with ginseng and honey (white) and cranberry juice (red) chilled in long-stem crystal glasses. The water was Perrier.

“Now you can get a feel just to give you a good idea of a formal dining experience,” Fields told her guests. “Sometimes in life you’re going to have to fit into a setting like this.”

The group even recited some phrases in French, also learned during the classes.

“It’s my job to create and do different workshops. I like to bring in new ideas,” Fields said. “I just wanted to introduce them to different cultures and different ways of life. I wanted to bring some elegance to Tom Brown Village.”

Fields spent her own money and secured her own network of volunteers to bring the bistro to life. Caterer Sylvia Jackson, volunteered as the chef for the afternoon while Vashonda Armor, a community center assistant, doubled as a server for the afternoon.

“It doesn’t take a building full to enjoy, fellowship and have fun,” Fields said. “I’m truly thankful for the blessings that God has given me and allowed me to share.”

All the guests immersed themselves in the experience, including Sara Richards, who brought a gift for the hostess. It was the proper thing to do, Richards insisted.

The guest list included both senior, longtime residents and younger mothers.

“This is my first time actually sitting down to a formal dinner,” Ashley Cunningham, a mother of three, said after the toast.

At another table sat longtime resident Ada Carlock, who said she was familiar with formal dining and praised the attention to detail shown on this day.

“This has been a mighty fine formal dinner,” she said. “I have truly enjoyed being here today with all of you.”

Following the success of her first formal dinner, Fields plans to expand the settings to include family dinners where parents can bring their children. Word has spread, and residents are already asking for invitations to the next event.

“I did it for my own kids during Thanksgiving, so I thought, ‘Why not share this with the community?’” Fields said. “It’s all about bringing families together. Sometimes we forget about the basic things in life. The only way you can mend your family together is to sit share and talk at the table.”

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