With art supplies gently tucked away and dripping canvases leaned against the wall, the three of us - Heather, Michelle, and Ben - moved aside evidence of daily life in Heather’s live-work studio to prepare for the first ever Studio Table dinner, held this past October.
The preparation leading up to the dinner left us a little breathless, especially since using a residence as a venue causes space and aesthetic limitations. But there’s just no beating the comfortable atmosphere of dinner in a home. To offset details of daily life, like Heather’s bike resting on the back door and her brown paper lists on the studio walls, we added professional fine dining touches, like bronze silverware and crisp white pottery plates to elevate the experience and create the right mood for Ben’s planned menu. We laid handwritten menus with a fuchsia print at each place setting that Heather designed for Studio Table, and Michelle polished every detail of the evening itself, setting the scene for an intimate experience.
When each guest walked through the door there were little hints of nervousness and uncertainty on their faces; they were no doubt anticipating something new. But each face immediately opened with a smile when we greeted them and ushered them into the studio with a big hug and a welcome grilled pineapple cocktail invented by Ben.
People come together for meals and form communities, even great works of art are centered around meals: da Vinci’s Last Supper and Renoir’s Le déjeuner des canotiers for example. But it’s one thing to just have a dinner; it’s another to strip down the concept entirely by eliminating the need to pay at the end and by altering the normal “sit down, eat, pay, leave” routine of restaurant experiences. This concept allows people to organically share ideas, meet new friends, and enjoy a beautiful meal in a creative space without worrying about who’s getting the check.
To this dinner, we’d invited people with a range of different backgrounds and careers -- a photographer, tech startup founders, artists, and furniture designers. Wanting to celebrate this diversity and get people talking, we opened the dinner with a question: “What is something unexpected that has happened in your life recently?” Some answers were straight up hilarious, while others were eye-opening and vulnerable. Oddly there was an immediate sense of ease and camaraderie, even though no one knew each other. It felt fulfilling to see strangers talking to each other almost like they were saying, "Hi! We're meant to be friends. I'm so happy to be here with you right now."
Our first dinner centered around the theme of synesthesia, a condition where sight may mingle with sound, taste with touch, and so on. We started our evening of sense-challenging fine dining with a first course involving the sense of smell. This dish was replaced by the second course centered on proprioception -- the ability to sense the position of our bodies relative to other things. The third course demonstrated our sense of balance or equilibrioception. We explored the sense of sight in the fourth course. And, the finale of the evening was Ben’s spectacular fifth course on thermoception.
Some of the best moments we had that evening involved laughter and wonderful conversations. Each of Ben’s delicious courses sparked a new story or issued forth a new question, either regarding the food or a story. At the end of the night we were thrilled to see people exchanging phone numbers. They wanted to get to know each other more and connect further.
Although the three of us stripped down the concept of dinner, we didn’t change its goal. It was still a group of people around a table, but the difference is that we consciously slowed it down and gave it our full attention. Just doing this opened us up, made us aware of the present moment, and helped us appreciate the setting and the company all the more.
Above all, we saw how serendipity in the lives of a few can play out and affect those of many. We wanted to to challenge the norms and expectations of social gatherings, while simultaneously opening doors to San Francisco - connecting people who might not have otherwise met. And that’s exactly what happened.
-Michelle, Ben and Heather