“Cooking is an art and patience a virtue… Careful shopping, fresh ingredients and an unhurried approach are nearly all you need. There is one more thing – love. Love for food and love for those you invite to your table. With a combination of these things you can be an artist – not perhaps in the representational style of a Dutch master, but rather more like Gauguin, the naïve, or Van Gogh, the impressionist. Plates or pictures of sunshine taste of happiness and love.” – Keith Floyd, ‘A Feast of Floyd’
Every single time I use Uber/Lyft or AirB&B I can hear my mother in the back of my head saying, “Don’t talk to strangers. Come right home. Never get in anybody’s car!” In our current society, much to our mother’s chagrin, we have come to rely on the service of ‘strangers’ as we become more insulated in our social media, iPhones, and tablets. There are a tremendous number of ‘sharing apps’ that bring total strangers together for transportation, housing, and a meal. I recently came across a website, www.eatwith.com, where passionate chefs cook a meal and invite others to dine in their home. With the rise and reliance of Uber, Lyft, AirB&B and other sharing apps, the idea of inviting complete strangers into your home and into your life no longer seems as strange as it once did.
After hearing about www.eatwith.com, I decided to look at their website and see what it had to offer; at worst, I was going to get a meal and a great story out of the experience. The website is very easy to navigate; I entered in my location – NYC, number of guests – 2 (forced my boyfriend to join me whether he liked it or not), convenient date – late September.
After putting in those criteria, I was presented with a list of different food options. It ranged from Italian food served family style in Brooklyn, Chinese five course tasting in Manhattan, or a Vegetarian option in Queens. After scrolling through some options and knowing my desire for fresh foods, I ended up choosing an event called, Fusion of Flavors: Five Courses of Market’s Best with Little Chef, Little Kitchen in Queens. This event promised a five-course meal with lots of fresh vegetables from the local market. The website allows you to interact with the host and I emailed her ahead of time to request a vegetarian menu for us which she was happy to oblige. She confirmed her exact location a few days before the event and off we went on a lovely Tuesday evening in Queens.
I used the week prior to the event to gently ease my boyfriend into the event. I began by telling him we were going to Queens for dinner one night, after he agreed I told him it was at a woman’s apartment and he asked a few questions, then I finally explained to him it was a bunch of complete strangers socializing and enjoying a meal prepared by this woman in her kitchen!
I did not know what to expect but I went with an open mind. We arrived right on time at the host’s beautiful building, went up the elevator to the 30th floor, and knocked on the door. I knew everything would be fine because when the door opened we were greeted like family members arriving for a holiday dinner. The host had lovely, soft contemporary music playing in the background and the Yule Log on TV. I immediately felt warm, cozy and comfortable in a small apartment with 10 complete strangers. The host had two people assisting her, one of them handed us two glasses of wine and we were on our way to mingling with the other guests.
We quickly introduced ourselves to the other guests and began talking about current events. Around 8:20pm, the host introduced herself and told us to take seats around the seven-person table next to the kitchen. She explained the menu which included: Curried squash soup with pita crumble, and gremotata; a focaccia trip of garlic & herb, caramelized onion and tomato basil with side of balsamic glaze and fig spread; sweet potato puree, roasted brussel sprouts, pickled celery and onion; and an entrée option of “Mechado” – Mama’s Filipino beef stew or Ciambatta, traditional Italian vegetable stew with farm fresh vegetables; and for dessert: deconstructed Fall whoopie pie: apple pie spiced cookies, with salted caramel buttercream, drizzled with salted caramel.
Even though host was not a chef by trade, it was obvious how passionate she was about her craft. She does work in the food industry and cooking is her passion and her creative outlet. Throughout the meal, she explained how she went to the market in the morning to pick out the freshest vegetables in season and how she got up at 5am to put the beef in a crock pot to let it simmer all day. She then explained how her mother used to make the Mechado dish growing up and how every time she makes it, she’s immediately transported back in time. Her explanations were wonderful but never intrusive on the conversation happening around the table with the other guests. She struck a great balance of conversation and interaction while we mingled with others and ate.
The table included an older couple from San Diego with incredible stories about traveling the world, a younger professional couple a few years out of college, a woman who was friends with the host and me with my boyfriend. We had quite a lovely evening, the wine flowed, as did the conversations surrounding multiple topics. Overall, the food was fantastic. Some dishes, such as her curried squash soup, were better than most high-end restaurants I have been to. We departed around 10:30pm but I could have easily stayed another hour. The host was lucky it was a Tuesday evening or she might have found herself waking us up from a nap on the couch and kicking us out!
I have personally hosted a few people (never cooking but buying prepared things!) at my condo and I find that there’s a totally different aspect in sitting down to dinner at someone’s house versus a restaurant. At a restaurant, there’s a level of intimacy that’s often lost, especially dining in NYC. Besides a date, eating with co-workers or friends at a large table in NYC can seem impersonal, especially if you do not know the other diners too well. You find yourself yelling into a loud restaurant, barely hearing anyone’s conversation but the person next to you and you leave feeling as if it was a lot of work to try and speak to everyone. At this dinner, I felt like I really got to know the other diners and EatWith even sends an email the next day giving you everyone’s contact information. I am already thinking about going to another event by the same host and having dinner with another couple that was present.
The next day I was very excited to tell my family and friends about my experience and told my mom I wanted to book her at one of the events. I wonder how mad my family would be if I told them I was doing Thanksgiving with random strangers instead of them? They do have hosts available to host in over 200 cities around the world…
Aforementioned host contact info: Diana – Little Chef Little Kitchen