“Food is the ultimate expression of the human experience. I don’t think anything is as powerful as sharing a meal and breaking bread.” (Andrew Zimmern, Roots 2018)
This quote by Andrew Zimmern has resonated so much with us that we’ve decided to dedicate an entire post to how eating together goes beyond simply receiving nourishment—focusing on how the experience of eating and drinking transcends what food is on our plates and what liquid is in our glasses.
“When you think about it,” says Culinary Vegetable Institute Wine Steward Liz Studer, “every known culture has had some form of ritual sharing that has involved food and drink, with those rituals being a hallmark of the culture.”
Today’s rituals can include, as just one example, the proper way to pour a glass of wine for a guest. For a demonstration, our preference is that you attend an event at the Culinary Vegetable Institute to let us pour you the perfect glass. In the meantime, here’s advice from the Wall Street Journal on how to engage in the contemporary ritual of wine pouring:
Another good modern-day example is the English afternoon tea, where the rituals go beyond simply drinking tea and eating a scone (rhyming it with “gone,” mind you, not with “bone”!).
“Going back in time,” Liz said, “you can think of drinking mead as an example, with this honeyed wine associated with the concept of honeymoons.” Some contemporary Irish weddings still include a mead toast to honor the times when newlyweds would drink honey wine every day for a month after they got married, with the hope being that this would also be the time that the couple started their family.
(Here’s where you can find Liz’s unique Meaderita recipe.)
Liz points out that the rituals of eating and drinking naturally create a gathering ground for people, and that has likely been true since the early days of humanity. A fascinating article by Sapiens.org suggests that, when ancient people gathered to cook around a campfire, this collective experience actually helped to advance our abilities to think, plan and reason.
How? Cooking boosted how much energy people could get from their food, which gradually increased human brain sizes. Tending a fire, meanwhile, enhanced humans’ ability to cooperate and coordinate efforts. Coming together around the cooking fire, then, became a “nurturing spot that helped to develop the important social interdependence of human groups.”
Interestingly enough, when we began making fires together, this is also when other cultural behaviors likely first appeared, including “art, needlepoint, fishing hooks, clothes” and more.
“Contrast that highly interactive behavior with some of today’s,” Liz said, “when we’re focused on technology, rather than one another, when we’re not always connecting on the most basic of levels.” She cites the work of photographer Eric Pickersgill, who takes photos of people using their smartphones—and then removes the devices from the photos to demonstrate how much they’re causing us to disconnect.
You can find some examples of his startling and striking work here.
Liz also points out a more encouraging trend, that of shared cocktails, including drinks served from glass punch bowls. “This trend focuses on a communal spirit, of a drink that, from its inception, is meant to be shared.”
This naturally makes the experience of having a drink a more social one, reminiscent of the shared scorpion bowl Tiki drink. Typically served in a large bowl decorated with island images, people drink this cocktail punch through long straws.
A Focus on Wine
“Wineries and restaurants that serve wine,” Liz said, “are increasingly telling stories about where, for example, their grapes are grown, connecting us together by sharing stories that offer up expressions of place.”
At one Culinary Vegetable Institute event, diners got to savor wines from the South of France. Stories of place from that evening focused on a Cremant de Limoux rosé, grown in a soil comprised of clay, limestone and gravel in a microclimate particularly well suited to whites and sparkling whites.
Contrast that place to another focus of the evening, the tiny hamlet of Barroubio, where the soil is infused with limestone, and the white chalky rocks give the ground a convincingly snowed-on appearance.
In the town of Cebazan, grapes grow on steep hillsides, while plow horses work the red clay, gravel and sandstone soil of Chateauneuf du Pape. Clay and limestone soil rests above an underground cellar at Verdauger’s Rivesaltes—and, at the Magalas vineyard, Marl (a lime-rich mudstone of clay and silt) and schist (metamorphic rock) are at the heart of the soil.
Contemporary Experiential Dining: Pop-Up Dinners
Pop-up dinners, which have been becoming increasingly popular over the last dozen years or so, are giving diners a unique experience, a way to connect with one another in surprising ways. For example, pop-ups held at the Culinary Vegetable Institute have included ones with:
- Dirt Candy’s Chef Amanda Cohen, the first vegetarian chef to ever appear on Iron Chef America; at the pop-up dinner, she created playful interpretations of tomato tart, mushroom mousse, pea soup, carrot sliders, and popcorn pudding
- Elaia’s Chef Ben Grupe, who created an experience for diners in the summer of 2018 that allowed them to celebrate food cultures from around the globe, including the bountiful Midwest
- The Totally ‘80s with Andrew Friedman; he is the author of Chefs, Drugs, and Rock & Roll: How Food Lovers, Free Spirits, Misfits, and Wanderers Created a New American Profession and, at this pop-up dinner, multi-James Beard Award winner Chef David Waltuck created unforgettable dishes
- The Black Pig’s Chef Michael Nowak, who created a pop-up that was the ultimate summer cookout in a relaxed atmosphere where people could simply connect and enjoy good food—and one another’s company
- Chef Scott Schneider, Ai Fiori’s Chef de Cuisine, who showcased seasonal vegetables with members of the Lorain County JVS Culinary Arts program serving as his sous chefs
Reconnecting Through Multi-Sensory Dining Experiences
When we engage in sensory experiences, we naturally connect to what’s going on around us—and this is clearly true when we eat.
At the Culinary Vegetable Institute, we focus on telling culinary stories that engage the senses and, because people eat with their eyes first, creative food plating is a priority for Executive Chef Jamie Simpson and his team. Plating techniques include, but certainly aren’t limited to, how the chef incorporates a sense of balance—and here’s how Chef Jamie has explained that concept.
“It can be as simple as ‘How far do you sear it? How hard do you sear it? Do you poach it? Do you grill it? Do you fry it? Do you dry it? Do you freeze it?’ Balance can also be in colors or flavors ─ flavors of high acidic notes, and deep dark charred alkaline notes. It can be a balance of color ─ greens, blues, purples, pinks, yellows ─ whatever. And if there’s a certain amount of pastel to a color, then that level of pastel can be applied to other elements in the dish, which is really fun. Usually just achievable by adding milk or cream.”
As diners participate in multi-sensory dining, they naturally want to share what they’re experiencing with people around them. And, interestingly enough, when they’re eating the same foods as those around them, the experience intensifies.
According to an NPR interview, “Food is about bringing something into the body. And to eat the same food suggests that we are both willing to bring the same thing into our bodies. People just feel closer to people who are eating the same food as they do. And then trust, cooperation, these are just consequences of feeling close to someone.”
New research by the Association for Psychological Science goes a step further, discovering that people cooperate more fully with one another when they eat from shared plates. This proved true even when the people sharing plates were strangers to one another.
Does this mean that we should no longer eat on individual plates and/or never eat alone? Of course not! But these findings add even more weight to the idea that breaking bread together truly is a desirable universal human experience.
We want to eat and drink where we feel welcomed, where we feel part of a human experience, where—well, where everyone knows your name or is eager to learn it and get to know you better.
Now, here’s what other experts have to say on the subject of food as an experience that connects us all.
Insights From Around the Web
According to the psychology department at Arizona State University, food’s “rudimentary purpose” is to provide us with the nutrition we need to live, adding that it “also nourishes our souls,” bringing people together and fostering a “sense of community and belonging.”
Here’s what TheFabJourney.com has to say on the subject: “Food is linked with virtually all celebrations and milestones. Food is a vital part of our life experiences. We love nothing better than to sit around the table with those we love.”
Psychology Today chimes in with these insights: “Intuitively, we recognize that the food experience involves eating; but also that there is something significantly more difficult, more ethereal, and more ambiguous to define. It is this unconscious, non-victual serving of the meal that is the living portion of the feast. It, not the food, makes the event authentic . . . the intimate shared ruminations between you and your significant other are the cornerstones upon which we build the stories of our lives and from which we set forth for action and adventure.”
TheAtlantic.com points out that the rituals of food are part of what makes us humans, as “we distinguish ourselves by the fact that we eat at a table, or at least a specific place intended for a meal, such as a mat on the ground. We don’t eat as soon as we get our hands on food, to stifle hunger; we usually eat together, if less than we used to and at more flexible times. We generally wait—although again less than we used to—until everyone has food on his or her plate, and we don’t regard the meal as over until everyone has eaten enough.”
National Geographic, meanwhile, makes this observation. “Retrieved from the ashes of Vesuvius: a circular loaf of bread with scoring marks, baked to be divided. ‘To break bread together,’ a phrase as old as the Bible, captures the power of a meal to forge relationships, bury anger, provoke laughter.”
Break Bread With Us at the CVI
We invite you to explore our upcoming events, each of which will provide a different way to come together to enjoy the universal human experience of eating and drinking together.
The Culinary Vegetable Institute is also available for additional private events, where a group of your choice can gather together for an intimate yet collective experience. These events include:
- Private Dining
- Holiday Parties
- Fundraising Events
- Group Cooking Classes
- Rehearsal Dinners
- Wedding Ceremonies and Receptions
- Memorial Luncheons
- Group Cooking Demonstrations
You can also hold a team building event for your company at the CVI, one where you can gather to help your employees reach their full potentials. We customize events to dovetail with company goals, and we’ve inspired employees from Michelin Star restaurants to Fortune 500 companies in the food and beverage, finance, high-tech and pharmaceutical fields.
Restaurant teams comes together at the CVI to unify concepts, launch new menus, and revitalize missions—and to refresh, recharge, and reconnect.
Here are just a couple of team building testimonials.
“My interactions with CVI were seamless from beginning to end due to the continual guidance from the CVI team. From the initial inquiry about their facility to the final parting gift everything was executed in a timely and professional manner. Feedback from our group mentioned that their favorite parts were the presentations (especially Farmer Jones), the tour of the greenhouses with tastings and the over the top lunch.” (Doug McGohan, Manager -Culinary Services Nestle USA)
“Hosting our annual Executive Team holiday event at the CVI, was the result of myself and my wife attending a recent 50th birthday celebration, flawlessly executed by CVI’s Culinary and Operations team. The second time around did not disappoint either; our Executives had a wonderful experience, Chefs Jamie, Dario and Tristan exceeded my expectations (AGAIN) and simply said, the entire CVI staff / festively decorated Great Room and our specific time together that evening, was a great catalyst for a most successful Annual Holiday/Team Building event.” (Stephen J. Latkovic, Managing Director Candlewood Partners)
If you’re ready to discuss the possibilities of your own team building retreat or private dining event, please contact us online today or call 419.499.7500.