I have cooked for family. I have cooked for dates. I have cooked for judges. But now it was time to cook for strangers.
A few weeks ago I met Jessica, one of the founders of Mealsharing.com, at a meeting for Chicago Food Bloggers. Sharing photos and stories on here is great, but I have been looking for a space for friends and strangers to sample my creations. Jessica said she knew people who would host if I was willing to cook. I emailed my friends to pick a date, then started planning the menu.
I settled on crostini with four different toppings, a salad, carbonara alla bucatini and tiramisu. If you read this blog on a regular basis you know I rarely bake. My girlfriend offered her services to whip up tiramisu from scratch.
On mealsharing, you can specify where, how much guest should chip in and how many people you’d like to host. I figured 10 of my friends might come. Thursday night I only had one faithful friend who had registered. I considered rescheduling the dinner. On Friday, friends and strangers started claiming all the seats to sell out the event.
We hit a few stores to procure all the ingredients. For the crostini toppings I reached out to my grandma’s cousin Ciccio in Sicily for advice. He sent three suggestions for Crostini marsalesi: Patè di olive, Patè di tonno in scatola and Patè di pomodoro. I added roasted eggplant with roasted garlic to the lineup. I made all of these with my KitchenAid Chopper before heading to the city.
Leann and I emerged victorious in the battle against rush hour traffic from the ‘burbs. We stopped at Mariano’s in the South Loop to get the final ingredients. Ben & Jerry’s was camped outside with free samples, which served as an energy booster after a long drive. Once at the space, Leann and I may have skipped around in amusement. The space Jessica set me up with was a common space for a condo building in the South Loop. It overlooked Soldier Field, Lake Michigan and had an unrivaled view of downtown’s skyscrapers. Leann and I unpacked our items, started prepping and wondering if they’d ever know if decided to never leave that rooftop paradise.
Guests started arriving shortly after 7:15. Scaling a recipe for 4 to serve 12 isn’t as simple as you would hope.
I know why they called it a miracle when Jesus fed all the guests at Cana. He was smart to limit the menu to loaves and fishes.
Leann and my friends jumped in as sous chef to help me get the food out. The crostini and salad bought me time to assemble the carbonara. There was a bit of a delay between courses, but thankfully no one rushed the kitchen. After the carbonara was done, everyone left the kitchen to enjoy wine, food and conversation.
Not long after plating myself carbonara and crostini most of the food was finished! Always a good sign. We sat for a bit letting the food digest. Then it was time for the jewel of the meal: Leann’s homemade tiramisu. My friend Miguel, who was carb loading before two triathlons this weekend, snapped a pic of tiramisu with Chicago’s skyline as the backdrop. Then one of the guests began getting every last bit of tiramisu out of the pan. It was too good to let any go to waste.
Huge thanks to Jessica and Jay for allowing me to share my love of cooking with friends and strangers in a ridiculously awesome space. I was a bit ambitious in aiming to make all the food on the menu. A salad, main and dessert would be more feasible. A make-ahead dish would also enable more interaction with my friends and guests. Carbonara doesn’t reheat well, so I was in the kitchen most of the night.
Next time I will simplify the menu and limit the number of guests to four. Overall, it was a great experience and sharpened my kitchen skills. Plus it confirmed I have some great close friends who trekked out and helped me make this dinner in the clouds a reality.
Underground dinners may be all the rage for foodies, but I like my food with a view.