Two Maestros of the Celebratory Dinner
Why They're Tastemakers: The Kitchen's bread and butter is asking guests to butter the bread themselves—and knead the pasta dough, chop the salad and cook the mussels. Participatory dining is the heart and soul of Anne Boninsegna and Jen Lindsey's German Village establishment: The staff preps and cleans but relinquishes many cooking duties to patrons—friends, family, co-workers and strangers alike. It's a singular concept, part culinary class, part rustic restaurant and part immersive bonding experience.
One Kitchen, Many Cooks: Inspired by a wood-fired cooking workshop at the Franklin Park Conservatory, where Lindsey and Boninsegna worked previously, the two friends opened The Kitchen in 2013 as a participatory dining venue meant to re-create parties in Boninsegna's home kitchen. The dinners can be private affairs—birthdays, anniversaries, corporate outings—or ticketed public events with menus inspired by seasonal ingredients, boozy pairings and popular books. The execution is a high-wire act; dozens of people with varied expectations and skills show up to the same events. “You're now inviting chaos to every single recipe,” Lindsey says, “and hoping that the conduction of the chaos goes as seamlessly as possible.”
Bourbon and Success: After some trial and error, they settled on a common thread for all they do: The Kitchen is a place for celebration. At a recent participatory bourbon dinner, Boninsegna sat back and observed their concept come to fruition—the proper preparation and the right mix of people coming together to enjoy cooking, eating and drinking. A week later they held a second public bourbon dinner, and she tempered her expectations. Surely it wouldn't go so well. “And it was even better,” she says. “And I was like, ‘By George, I think we've got it!'”
Room to Play: Participatory dining comprises about 75 percent of the schedule, but The Kitchen also hosts private catered events and standard restaurant service during Taco Tuesdays. The programming is set to expand to an adjacent space on Livingston Avenue in June with the opening of The Studio at The Kitchen, which will hold smaller private gatherings and perhaps educational fare, like classes on wine.
Turning up the Heat: In 2016 and 2017, the owners joined forces with Columbus Food Adventures' Debra O'Molesky and Bethia Woolf (a Columbus Monthly contributor) to host two fundraising dinners made exclusively by women, generating nearly $25,000 for the addition of the YWCA's commercial kitchen, Boninsegna says. The Turning up the Heat events were meant to offer a platform for women to gain recognition for their talents as chefs and bakers. The dinners also were about creating bonds, Lindsey says, and preparing something special together. “You don't even have to consume it,” she says. “It isn't about that. It's about the fact that you cooked together.”