Dinner With Strangers

When friend and fellow Clevelandophile Danielle Deboe was drafting her speech for TEDxCLE she kept going back to the idea that one of the most powerful things that one can do to change a city is to bring lots of passionate creative types together.  Not for any defined “cause,” but simply to meet + see what comes of it.  Danielle is a great connector who, through her store Room Service in the Gordon Square Arts District and other avenues seems to meet some of Cleveland’s best and brightest creative thinkers.

She told us about a dinner party – a “Dinner for Strangers” (hosted weekly for the last 30 years by Jim Haynes – you can listen to his story on NPR here) – that she attended in Paris.  She talks about that experience in her TEDxCLE talk – it’s clear that that party was an “a ha!” moment for her.  And, this time, she took her own advice of – “That’s a great idea…I’m totally going to do that!”  She held her first installment in this series the first weekend in March (detailed here by Michelle of Cleveland Foodie fame) and we were lucky enough to be invited to participate this time around.

Sunday’s dinner was held in the vacant loft space on Detroit Avenue just kitty corner from Luxe.  Small details just made the night really special.  We got to enjoy a live dj along with a 6-course meal completely comprised of fresh ingredients + unusual flavors.  Our favorite course was actually dessert, which was surprising.  We are rather adventurous eaters and have tried a lot of “different” foods + combinations, however, when we saw dessert described this way we had a hard time figuring out what to expect:  “Rhubarb Ribbon + Buckwheat Cake + Truffle Oil Frosting + Buttermilk Panna Cotta + Honeycomb + Poppy Seeds”.  Chef Ryan Santos (of Please) had us totally stumped!  Texturally we loved this dish – it was unlike any dessert we’ve ever had.  The cake was dense, the panna cotta creamy sugar and sourness, and the honeycomb was incredibly smooth on the tongue but sticky and fun to pry from the fork with one’s teeth.  It was fantastic fun to eat.

The company, however, was what truly made the night special.  There were several people that we already knew + loved in attendance (such as the savvy, stylish Reena Samaan and world travelling, running buddy Kathryn Metz who both work at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Joseph Hughes who makes up 1/2 of the creative pair Northcoast Zeitgeist) mixed with a bunch of people that we didn’t know but were eager to meet.  We sat down next to a dapper but unfamiliar man who turned out to be Brian Jasinski of Grey Cardigan fame.  It was really great to meet him after having enjoyed his work since last year’s Made in the 216 event.  We loved hearing about what he’s doing now and all of the great things that are happening for Grey Cardigan (and it’s fans!) such as the Cleveland Bike Week showcase at Room Service.

We also got to catch up with Ryan Deussing and his delightful lady, Audrey Aponte.  Ryan was 1 of our TEDxCLE volunteers and, in addition to sharing the common experience of living on the east coast (in his case, New York) and moving back to Cleveland where he’s a huge proponent of creativity-fueled change, he and Audrey head up Elsewares.  And, they’re just generally delightful.

As an idea, this dinner was intriguing to us because we spend so much of our lives online.  If we wanted to, we could go hours without speaking given so much of what we do is communicate through email, read websites, etc.  And while we embrace the digital space, there really is no substitute for forming relationships offline (in our humble opinion).  There is something about using all of one’s senses to experience a person that helps you to understand who they really are and how you feel about what it is that they’re saying, what they’re all about.  We don’t seem to be the only ones that think this way.  This reemerging trend of the importance of real, physical connections seems to be popping up here and there.  One of our favorite examples is this photography project by Richard Rinaldi that looks to examine those first moments of not just meeting but touching a stranger.  Some fascinating, story-rich photos – absolutely worth checking out.