ALL THE BEST PARTIES HAPPEN IN THE KITCHEN
Written by Amelia Jeffers
Photography by James Henthorn
Akin to finding an oasis in the desert, we stepped inside The Kitchen, located on the north edge of German Village, on a dark, cold and snowy Ohio night to find a bright, warm and welcoming dinner party. Snacks were laid out by the entry and people were milling around, with some stepping up to make their own cocktails at the bar. Further beyond, the kitchen was spotless and open, but no one doing much work. Prep stations hinted at what was to come.
The physical space has a retro-edgy vibe with its punched tin ceiling, exposed brick walls and narrow-plank wood floors. Funky fixtures and big windows–carryovers from the retail days– look out over Livingston and the bright lights of the city beyond. Jen Lindsey and Anne Boninsegna are the architects of the idea, having worked together in the culinary industry in various capacities for more than 15 years.
We were directed to our seating assignment: table four, where we would return for dinner with 8 strangers after being dispatched to our “work”. By the end of the night, everyone was exchanging business cards and social media follows, with promises of coffee or connection in the near future. In addition to the new best friends from our table, the pre-dinner cocktail hour offered ample opportunity to meet a variety of fascinating people. One couple, new to Columbus, have been busy exploring the city and getting to know people, places and things to do - The Kitchen seemed a terrific, adventurous option. A vibrant, energetic retired couple makes it a point to do every city tour imaginable– from the Columbus Coffee Connection to the Metro Parks winter walk series to the Ale Trail. Two of the couples in attendance (friends since college) usually take turns hosting dinner, but the wives had tired of cooking and cleaning up, so the husbands wisely looked for an alternative. A restaurateur from southeast Ohio was surprised when his significant other gave him a giftcard to The Kitchen, offering the experience of cooking in someone else’s kitchen for a change
After being seated, there were quick intros and hellos, followed by instructions, and then we were put to work. A very avant-garde concept, participatory dining is the antithesis of a quiet, intimate dinner. We had the luxury of choosing our station, and each looked the way you always wished your kitchen would operate if a Michelin-starred chef had directed the setup.
The menu that evening included bourbon tastings paired with a number of courses, including lobster grilled cheese toast, corn and bacon chowder, pecan-crusted pork tenderloin and sweet potatoes, and a dessert of a decadent chocolate cookie wrapped around a hunk of savory cheese. The adventurous among us jumped to the lobster toast table where there was a lot of prep. The masochists served their time at the potato station, peeling and slicing and dicing...many hands make light work. This isn’t Thanksgiving dinner for 20, with all of the stress and fuss and timing. The staff cleans up and directs and pinch hits whenever something gets too hard or unpleasant (I can imagine the potato peeling as unpleasant, though I did not engage). Interesting and lively conversation kept the night moving; when one conversation ended, it was easy to start up something new at the next station.
Staff at The Kitchen possess a real sense of humor with direction, and they encouraged us to taste as we went about our duties. Expediting the process and making it the process nearly foolproof, all of the ingredients are pre-measured, demonstration-style. The best part of the party is the cleanup, or rather the lack thereof, which is aptly handled by The Kitchen staff. The intimate, hands-on aspect of the shared cooking experience greatly differentiates it from a standard-issue cooking class.
Open for drop-in guests (by reservation) and private events, each recipe on the menu is prepared by the guests to create a dinner party fit for every food enthusiast. The Kitchen allows guests to choose from existing themes and menus or collaborate with The Kitchen to develop one that suits your needs. Pricing, available dates, booking information, and general questions can be answered by phone or email. The current calendar of events on their website, which is updated regularly, reflects community dinners for beer lovers, wine aficionados, and themed events like Harry Potter’s Spring Break party (adult-oriented).
The Kitchen is located at 231 E Livingston Ave.
For more information or reservations, visit thekitchencolumbus.com.
This article was originally published in the March/April 2018 print edition of Sophisticated Living Magazine Columbus.