I consider myself a somewhat friendly person but with a strong edge of reserve. For this reason I am a semi-reluctant participant when it comes to communal dining. When a restaurateur or creative chef embarks on an interactive culinary journey with guest participation, and I am one of those guests, does it mean I must become besties with my table mates?
In creating one of a kind eating experiences with fan favorite chefs, I always try to engage the consumer with the chef. After all, they are there to interact with their gastronomic icon and above all else, savor each morsel, relish each sip of wine, and learn the secrets of fine cooking through palate and experience. So suffice to say that when my companion and I recently partook in such an intimate dining experience we were not expecting to be subjected to four and a half hours of loud pesky, tireless chatter. The chief offender was a Sofia Vergara sound alike, the linguistically challenged character, Gloria Prichett, from ABC’s Modern Family.
“Gloria” as we shall call her, screeched about her own global culinary glories – complete with tales of her fear of birds –both large and small-including roosters by the way. She assumed we were all dying to know about this and her many other amazing adventures such as how monkeys wreaked havoc with her luggage on a recent trip to Botswana. Not to be outdone, her equally obnoxious boyfriend who I dubbed Mr. Magoo, enthusiastically spouted out what all the ingredients were in each course. This news breaking announcement occurred just as I was putting that first forkful in my mouth – generally the moment of truth in my own tiny little paradise– a time to determine bliss or indifference. I was so lucky that I really didn’t need to review the tasting menu, savor the tastes or have the chef explain anything because Mr. Magoo provided a play by play throughout the night.
When Gloria and Mr. Magoo were not narrating the evening for us and telling us Tales from the Food Crypt , we were subject to a counter assault by a mother and son duo who were anxious to outshine Magoo and Company. “So tell me what do you do? Where do you live? Is that your real hair color?” the son asked me as I chewed on pork belly with citrus coriander blooms peeking out of the corner of my mouth. I was anxious to make the green leaves disappear so I could answer his questionnaire promptly. This communal experience was not, it turned out, about the consumption of culinary delights, but rather about swapping bragging rights – real or imaginary. It is merely a group of people forced to sit together for excruciating hours each one trying to surpass the achievements of the other and lauder their own merits. This is truly not the atmosphere for a culinary exhibition.
By the time the BlancManger of Summer Berries arrived, my companion and I were eyeing the exit and deliberating about the appropriate time to depart. “Ooooww…you’re not leaving yet, are you?” hollered the son eying us suspiciously as if he had read my mind and knew of my plot to escape. Alas! Our plans were foiled as all eyes turned on my friend and me. I shook my head and gulped down the Nutella ice cream hoping the delicious smooth taste would make my anxiety dissipate. When my dysfunctional table family finally parted ways, I was exhausted, sapped of all energy. Gone were the memories of delicious goat cheese mousse and pickled beets. I forgot which wine I preferred. Instead, I embraced the quiet air outside the restaurant, lost in the noise of welcomed silence.
Victoria Hoffman’s Event Planning Rules on How to Create the Ideal Interactive Gastronomy Experience:
Rule #1 Make certain your guests like people, speaking or enjoy Tylenol.
Rule #2 Keep the experience to no more than three hours with hors oeuvres and cocktails served in the first hour to avoid the crowd from looking sullen, or ready to eat your arm.
Rule #3 If going with the communal theme, please adhere to rule #1 and consider your table seating arrangements. This is no different than making certain Newman does not sit next to Seinfeld or Kim Kardashian next to Dick Cheney.
Rule #4 There should be a designated host for the event – preferably the chef and not a tablemate unless they are hosting the event and have actually know the content.