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Deconstructing Dinner: Reconstructing Our Food System
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Weekly Column

May 12, 2008


Deconstructing Dinner



How one innovative restaurant model has become a form of 'restaurant therapy'!


Jon Steinman

Readers and listeners of Deconstructing Dinner are often presented with content that is focused on taking apart the actual food we put into our bodies and how this food is grown and produced.


However, one Toronto chef has introduced a model of 'eating-out' that is encouraging a rethink of the standard restaurant model that most of us take for granted. Certainly a new form of deconstructing our dinners!

Maria Solakofski operates The Guerrilla Gourmet - a series of meals hosted in her own downtown Toronto home. The model is really quite simple: Through word-of-mouth and a growing list of email addresses, Solakofski sets a date for a dinner. Up to ten random guests arrive at Solakofski's house, unaware of the menu for the evening. Guests mingle with each other and with the chef either in the garden or in the kitchen. When the three-course meal is served among Solakofski's backyard garden, guests receive a detailed history of the food's origin, including the names of every farmer and producer involved in the process.


The Guerilla Gourmet helps illustrate how little many of us have questioned the 'normal' restaurant experience.


So what is the 'normal' restaurant experience?


Whether they be cafés, diners, or five-star restaurants, all are based on a very similar model that has acted itself out for centuries. In its most standard form, restaurants consist of people gathering at random times in locations outside of our homes. We develop very brief and sometimes meaningless relationships with a host and or restaurant server. We order our food from a menu of options that offers no background on where the food came from and often prepared with ingredients that the chefs could rarely provide a history of. Upon ordering our appetizers, main courses or desserts, this food is then expected to arrive on a precise schedule: waiting more than fifteen minutes for the food is unacceptable to most of us. Behind a wall is often a brigade of white-clothed humans preparing our meals, remaining completely shut off from those of us eating the food. Surrounding each group of eaters, are even more eaters, but among whom there is rarely any interaction or, conversation. This is the standard restaurant experience in a nutshell.


When breaking it down as such, we can begin to see how the disconnected experience of eating-out reflects how disconnected we've all become from where our food is grown, who's growing it, and how it was produced.


It is this standard restaurant experience that encouraged Solakofski to launch The Guerrilla Gourmet. "As soon as you walk into a restaurant, there's a contract; that foot tapping," says Solakofski. "There's an expectation; food is coming, and there's this clock that's going, and you're waiting. That does not allow for a slow-food experience," she adds.


Such expectations seem completely out of place at a Guerrilla Gourmet dinner. The complete opposite appears to be true, as I too became a guest at one of her meals. Upon arriving at Solakofski's home, I was immediately compelled to lend a hand in the kitchen. As more guests arrived through the door, they too seemed just as interested to become involved. Solakofski insists that this is completely normal. "There is a sense of involvement and satisfaction, and it's because that feels natural with food and sharing," says Solakofski.


Solakofski's meals; the mingling with the chef, the interaction with other guests, the detailed history of the ingredients help provide a form of therapy to lead us towards recognizing how passively consumptive we have become in our culture of convenience.


This passive consumption extends far beyond our daily requirement of eating. In fact much of the North American lifestyle has become rather reliant on passive consumption. Relationships with other people have been weeded out of our daily routines. In our jobs and in our leisure, we seem to require fewer human interactions. It could be said that menus and restaurant servers are the emails and telephone calls of our food.


Solakofski views her meals as a perfect tool to help not only reengage people with each other, but also with themselves. "A lot of what the dinners are about is making people connect, and when people connect with each other, then they connect with everything - with nature," says Solakofski. "If you have a connection with nature then you hear this rhythm of what's happening, and a lot of people disconnect from their own rhythm because they're listening to what other people say."


Just as guerrillas are often associated with revolutions, The Guerrilla Gourmet really is quite revolutionary. Solakofski's model can help us see deeper into how our relationship with food can help nurture more positive relationship with our surroundings.


Deconstructing Dinner is heard on radio stations across Canada and is available as a Podcast. Interviews and recordings with Solakofski can be found at  (




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