As soon as I entered Harlem Parish, the venue for To Be Hosted’s second annual WE Gala, I knew it was a space designed with intention. I was met with Anita Baker blasting through the speakers (thanks to DJ Ayanna Heaven), brilliant high ceilings, vibrant colors and a sea of lively, friendly faces scattered among four long family-style tables.
The Friday evening in New York brought together some 130 professionals in hospitality—chefs, business owners, beverage experts, writers, content creators and more—and had one clear goal in mind: to recognize Black excellence in food and beverage. It was abundantly clear that everyone present was ready to celebrate. I knew I was.
That’s exactly what Amber Mayfield, the woman behind the event, had in mind. Fortunately, she isn’t new to this. Mayfield’s events and media company To Be Hosted has been holding its own supper clubs and themed gatherings since 2017 and also curates occasions and brand activations for companies like Netflix, YouTube and LVMH. When it comes to partnering with corporate clients, Mayfield is diligent about integrating Black and Brown creators, chefs and vendors into their run of show. As part of an event recap, her team sends clients a detailed overview of where their budget was allocated—including how much went to professionals that are women and people of color. It’s important work that has earned Mayfield accolades including making the Forbes 30 Under 30 Media list in 2022.
In 2020, To Be Hosted branched out to launch a yearly publication, While Entertaining, to bring the stories of underrepresented voices in hospitality to life at a larger scale. It also serves as a resource for people looking for guidance on how to meaningfully host and entertain.
The WE Gala, which first started in 2022, is an extension of these efforts. It’s a yearly black tie event (this year’s theme was Black Tie In Bold Color) to showcase the wide spectrum of Black talent across a historically monotonous industry, to honor the cultural contributions of the attendees in the room and far beyond it.
Naturally, amplifying the work of industry trailblazers was weaved into the gala’s programming: The night’s featured chef was Brittney ‘Stikxz’ Williams who curated a four-course menu inspired by her Jamaican roots, complete with a slate of wine pairings from the McBride Sisters Collection as well as Basil Hayden Whiskey-based cocktail options. And, in partnership with Pepsi Dig In, the gala presented its People’s Choice Chef Award (a cash reward of $10,000) to Rasheeda Purdie, a New York stylist-turned-chef crafting innovative ramen experiences.
Sweet July spoke to Mayfield about her growing vision for the To Be Hosted brand, including its annual WE Gala.
What was the impetus for starting To Be Hosted?
Amber Mayfield: It was an interesting time because I was still working in television. I was a page at NBC and then I worked at Bravo TV. I had an interest in the food and lifestyle content that they were doing, but it just wasn’t really resonating with me in a way that I thought I could stay there. I was then looking for jobs at event companies and kept not finding the right job for me, so I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my life. I started drawing up what it was that I liked about events and what it was that was missing in events and missing in my life. I thought, “How can I get people to slow down and be more intentional and not go to networking events that are all about exchanging business cards?” It really spiraled from wanting a space that just felt more intimate and intentional within food and more for me and Black folks, really.
And then your While Entertaining yearly publication entered into the mix in 2020. What inspired this addition?
AM: I was looking at our dinner parties and I was like, “Okay, well, I can only throw dinners for like 20 people at a time.” But there were still these really incredible chefs and musicians and artists that I wanted to work with. I wanted to see their stories told on a grander scale. So While Entertaining became this way to take To Be Hosted home with you. When you look in the magazine, you get the stories and the recipes and the playlists and the pairing tips. It was my hope that if you couldn’t be present with us, you could turn to this magazine and feel like you could be with us in that way.
It feels like with While Entertaining, you’re also laying the groundwork for people to host their own versions of these gatherings.
AM: Exactly. I’m hoping that I will inspire people to gather more often and with more intention and enthusiasm instead of it just feeling like it’s just another dinner party.
On that note, as we approach the summer months, what tips do you have for people looking to host gatherings with more intention?
AM: Always think about the question, “How do you want people to feel when they’re at your event?” With that question, you can find all the decisions and all the details. Do you want them to feel happy? Do you want them to feel reflective? Do you want it to feel like a reunion? Answering that central question can get you really far in terms of going a step beyond the traditional party and having something that really feels special.
Circling back to the WE Gala, how did you want people to feel at this event?
AM: I wanted people to feel like they were having the ultimate indulgence and just unapologetic enjoyment. I wanted everybody to feel like their most bold and vibrant self.
Now that the WE Gala’s second year has wrapped up, how do you feel? What are you most excited about?
AM: It almost doubled in size [from last year]—that was really exciting to see, that we can get that many people in one room for a dinner party. Someone said to me that it felt like a sunrise for To Be Hosted, While Entertaining and the WE Gala, and that gave me all the warm and fuzzy feelings. If this feels like the sunrise of what we could do, what does it look like when the sun is at high noon? That excites me—to figure out how we can bring this to more cities and to more people.