So what’s Kitchen Party then? If you’re familiar with CouchSurfing (which you aren’t), it’s the same thing - sans the couch. Rather than sleeping on some stranger’s sofa, you’re dinner-partying at some stranger’s place, meeting other like-minded (and hungry) individuals. The theme of the parties can be anything you’d like.
In fact, it doesn’t even need to be held at some glamorous penthouse apartment. There have been picnics in the park in Buenos Aires, rooftop barbeques in Rome, and even simple potluck dinners in flats across the globe.
The reaction I’ve faced when attempting to explain this whole thing to folk is usually along the lines of “Benjamin, you’re insane. Why would you invite random, completely unknown people into your home?” But that’s a false assumption.
See, the thing is, these people aren’t random. The folk who attend these things are already predisposed to this sort of behaviour – especially among couchsurfers. The way the system is set up isn’t like some public social network where anyone can join within a few clicks and casually turn up without notice. It requires activity on their part (people on the Internet are rather lazy). This slightly left-field branch of society aren’t freaked out by the idea of unfamiliar encounters, because they’ve already gone out of their way in the past to take part in such things offline. Ultimately it’s less about how good the food is and more about gathering together.
Inevitably the next question I’m usually faced with is “Okay, but you’re feeding these people for free – what do you get out of it? Also, you’re still nuts.” Well, the proposal put to guests is that they should bring something, much like any other normal shindig. It could be something simple as BYOB, but you can request that folk tell you a story. The most incredible thing I’ve heard so far at one KP is that a couple of guests put on a short three-act play for everyone in attendance.
I’ve held several so far in Moscow, starting with a potato party (cuz I’m Irish, geddit? Hilarious, I know), wherein I just served a huge pot of mashed potato, and it was a roaring success – although a few bottles of wine did loosen things up somewhat.
Given that it was the winter, I turned my attention to making soup instead. Chicken Vegetable is piss easy to make in huge quantities, as all you’re doing is throwing things into one big pot (recipe available on request). The only issue was coming up with a vegetarian option, which I’m not very good at – but therein lies another facet to how wonderful this idea is. It has encouraged me (and could encourage you too) to cook more. As for my request to the guests, I asked them to “bring something warm”. One guest brought a traditional spicy paste called аджика (ad-zhi-ka), while another made us all mulled wine.
As to why I got involved with it, it ties into my tango trip to Buenos Aires. There I met my long-time friend Mike, who helped start up the venture with his Italian friends. “Oh, that’s a pretty cool idea,” I said. And then there was a slight pause and I just knew what would happen next.
“Hey Ben, why don’t you kick things off in Moscow? I’m certain that the Russians would love this.”
Mike has an extremely magnetic personality (and if you ever meet him, which is more likely than you think because he’s constantly travelling the world, he can regale you with fascinating stories) and is tremendously difficult to say no to. But I genuinely like the idea.
The whole thing has garnered a lot of press attention lately too, and we have groups and accounts on all the major social network sites. And yes, even Google+.
Unfortunately, I’ve had my soup parties on hiatus for a couple of months already because of various personal issues I’ve had to deal with. Also, I’m kind of stuck for ideas on what to make, because it is roasting hot now. Soup was good for the winter; not so appealing for blazing Moscow heat.
So maybe, dear reader, you might like to take part in this social revolution but still don't feel like inviting people you've never met before in your life round for a meal? Well, you're in luck. Across the rest of the globe, flash mobs are being planned for the end of this month on May 27th, wherein folk will bum-rush their town square to have a picnic.
I have to pass on organizing that myself; Moscow's administration doesn't tend to view unsanctioned gatherings in the city kindly.