Building a Community

This past Sunday evening, I finally kicked off something I've been wanting to do in an official capacity for quite some time– a regional-cuisine-focused dinner series.

When it comes to cultivating community, I really believe in the classic saying, "if you build it, they will come." I've learned that most people today are craving more community-oriented experiences, but few have the time or energy to make them happen. If you can take initiative and be the catalyst for community-building events, I can almost assure you that the response will be overwhelming.

This dinner series (which I haven't officially named yet) is an attempt to build a local community of people in Austin, TX who love food and are interested in learning about and exploring new flavors and cuisines. I've been hosting dinner parties for ages now– it's one of my favorite things to do. I always try to cook something interesting, but usually the focus of these dinner parties is the social aspect– getting friends together, catching up, hanging out, and having a good time. They also usually involve my closest group of friends, who I see often. This dinner series is an attempt to expand that circle in a way that's still casual and fun, but also allows me (and everyone else who attends) to meet and connect with new people over a shared interest in food.

Sunday night was a test run to see what these dinner parties might look like. To begin with, I'm planning for each one to be 8-10 people with a casual, family-style atmosphere. There will be lots of food and drinks included at a super reasonable price. For the time being, I'm not really interested in making money on these dinners– but I do want to cover costs such that I can sustainably keep them happening regularly. I'll set up an email list and fill spots on a first-come-first-serve basis after the email goes out. I'll aim for one dinner per month.

Each dinner is going to explore a new regional cuisine. Part of the goal will be to cook from places whose food is under-explored here in the US– Iran, Senegal, and Brazil are three countries I'm toying with for the next one. Later on, I want to narrow the focus even more by exploring hyper-specific regions within various countries– Oaxaca, Yucatán, Chengdu, Goa, Patagonia, etc. And of course we'll have to do at least one dinner exploring the amazing food options around us right here in Texas.

This is still an experiment, but I'm hoping it's one that lasts. After putting out the word on Instagram yesterday, I got an incredibly positive and enthusiastic response. While the food will continue to be the focus, I'm toying with various ideas on how we can best cultivate the community side of things (and taking inspiration from a few ideas in Nat Eliason's Second-Degree Dinners article). I'll continue to write here about the successes and failures of this experiment as it happens.

Dinner #1: Japan

Sunday's test run kicked things off with one of my favorite cuisines in the entire world– Japanese. While I've eaten great Japanese food in various places around the world, I've never actually been to Japan. It was both challenging and fun to try to re-create dishes and flavors for which I had no tangible reference point.

I used this book (highly recommended) as a guide. I also happen to be on something of a kick with buying specialty Japanese ingredients, so I had a lot of fun playing with things like heirloom Japanese rice, specialty rice vinegar, and mirin, soy sauce, and more from Ohsawa.

Japanese Dinner Menu:

  • miso-marinated broiled salmon
  • soy-simmered Japanese sweet potato and kelp, seasoned with ume-shiso furikake
  • asparagus tossed in creamy sesame-miso sauce with toasted black sesame and lemon zest
  • heirloom Japanese rice seasoned with premium rice vinegar and shichimi togarashi
  • tomagoyaki (Japanese omelette)
  • seared shiitake mushrooms with brown rice vinegar

Unfortunately I was so busy cooking I didn't get many decent pictures. And the lighting in my kitchen is awful. There will be better photos next time around, I promise!

If you're based in Austin, TX (or planning to visit any time soon) shoot me a message and I'll add you to the list to notify you when the next dinner is happening!