Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Layered Experience

Receiving my new issue of F&W in the mail today reminded me that I've been meaning to post about something I read in the last issue.

Bill Donahue traveled to Portland (Oregon) to visit with, and write about, the town's super-young and provocative phenomenon, Michael Hebberoy, owner of several hot restaurants and now introducing an artisanal gin.

The article's a good one, and I remember being fascinated a few years ago when I read about Family Supper, the underground-gone-legit restaurant Hebberoy and his wife started in 2001. Donahue's article makes it clear that Hebberoy's grown up, though it's also clear that in many ways he's still an idealistic boy, hoping to make waves in the restaurant industry (not just the "scene"...he literally wants to change the laws that raise barriers to entry in the restaurant business.) It also seemed to me that Hebberoy could be a little full of himself, having accomplished so much at the ripe young age of 29. But who's to say where the line between idealistic and cocky is?

What really struck me about the article, though, was Hebberoy's dedication to the restaurant as a social gathering place, and his efforts to return the restaurant space to the sort of intellectual energy source it was in long ago London pubs. The post title, the "layered experience" is a reference to what Hebberoy believes restaurants should offer.

Putting his money were his mouth is, Hebberoy has hired a writer-in-residence, Matthew Stadler, who writes short essays that are placed on patrons' tables. He also hosts a "dinner salon" each month at Family Supper. The brief sentence Donahue devoted to the salons is one that I haven't been able to get out of my head for a month.

My favorite European History teacher, Barry Miller, would undoubtedly be proud to know that ever since 10th grade, I've been a bit obsessed with the concept of the salon. I'm fascinated by the idea of a great group of intellects, eating and drinking and casually batting around great theories of life and art and (yes) food. For a brief time in my early 20s, I even tried to create a salon-like entity with my friends as participants. (It didn't go so well.)

This is why I am in love with the idea of the dinner table salon. If my friends weren't as receptive as I'd hoped to the stilted idea of getting together to exchange theoretical viewpoints on life's big mysteries, they've always been more than receptive to the idea of coming over to my house so I can cook for them. Discussion at the dinner table is always natural, and if it's not always 100% highbrow, that's not so bad. Who's to say that Laguna Beach has no cultural significance? (I know some people who would certainly argue that it does.)

With this broader, looser vision of the salon in hand, I can look at my kitchen and my dining room in a new way, with new excitement, my inner 10th grade Modern European History dork just blooming and bursting.

(As an aside, my little thing for salons is almost certainly related to why I love the idea of blogs so much. The whole open, idea-sharing environment that encourages communication and building on others' thoughts. Pretty amazing, really. But I digress.)


DamselFish said...

Hey -- I was introduced to your blog by a friend, and think that it is great. I also live in Baltimore, and love to cook. I can't believe that there are no comments on this post about the idea of the salon. I have often thought of bringing together my intelligent and interesting and fun friends around food for a good look at the hard issues.

Have you had any success in making this happen yet? My husband and I find that Bertha's bar makes us feel inspired to deconstruct the nation's ills and our own secret philosophies of life, but it hasn't worked yet on our friends.

Cate said...

I love the salon idea! I wish we lived closer ... I'd totally host salon night with you! PS - check out my blog tonight. ;)


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