The “Curious Dinners” were a series of absurdist dinner party experiences some friends and I made from 2016-2019. They were inspired by the fantastically strange restaurant Kagaya in Tokyo, Japan with borrowed elements from Andre’s Carne de Res and other Paisa bars in Colombia.
Little to no information was given on the invite. Either you signed up for it or you never found out what it was. Seats were limited to just 12 guests, demand was high, and as a rule we didn’t let people attend more than once. In the first season we didn’t even allow plus ones.
The Spark of The Idea
I had recently come back from my experiences in Tokyo and was telling friends about Kagaya. How it seemed to be a series of weird random skits, how it was basically a one-man show (and that same man being the waiter) and how it was just amazing and we all agreed it was the best thing we had done there.
Secretly I was telling my friends because I wanted them to get inspired to do a similar thing here, but in dinner party format, for our friends.
Thankfully I have some very creative friends that like to do weird stuff and perform so it didn’t take long for someone to suggest we create one of our own.
The General Principles of Curious Dinners
One of the early tenets we adopted was “Don’t mess with the food”. We were going to have real food and we needed people to trust it. It would be the safe throughline of the evening. We didn’t want people wondering if they were going to get possibly poisoned because that level of anxiety were distract them from enjoying the skits. That said, it was always very very tempting mess with the food or do skits that affected the food. Lukily and smartly, we resisted.
Another principle is that there would also be a lot of interaction between performer and guest. The guests would be put on the spot and be involved more intimately with the show. The asks wouldn’t be too big, but enough to create that level of uneasiness that keeps people alert and energized. We wanted a constant feel of “What’s going to happen next?”
We also wanted to create a memorable shared experience. We wouldn’t make the guests compete with each other. Instead they were all on the same team. Instead of separate tables, we made one very long table to seat everyone communally.
The skits were could be just about anything you wanted it to be. The stranger and more surprising the better.
They skits did not have to be related to each other at all. This is something we changed for future seasons after getting some feedback from guests. But at the beginning we didn’t care. We just wanted to do it.
We brainstormed a big list of skit ideas over the seasons. Looking at the list now I see things like “Someone gets shot out of a cannon” and “I was born a unicorn who will cut our hair”. Sadly, we didn’t do either of these. Someday!
Where did the name “Curious Dinners” come from?
When it came time to send out the invites to potential guests, we didn’t even have a name for the thing. Kate wrote the invite and said that it would be a night of “dinner and curious entertainment”. Somewhere along the way our shorthand evolved to call them “Curious Dinners”. There never was any debate about the name. Maybe because it really was a great fit.
The event would be at my house, for 10-12 guests. It would last about 2.5 hours. There would be a 4-course vegan dinner made by Vianca (who was also performing). Here’s the invite for the first show we ever did:
Over the course of the next few years we had different shows:
Season #1: Vianca, Matt, Kate, Andy and I. This was a lot of winging it. In fact, we didn’t even know what each others’ skits were until we saw them performed the night of the show. (Note to self: This might be a good idea for a general dinner party).
Season #2: We added Dan and Emily and Iain, who took over chef duties from Vianca. Andy sat this season out. There was much more planning. Some of the skits remained the same.
Season #3&4: We added Rebecca and Kevin. We kept some of the skits from before and added new ones, more effects and things got way way more complex, complicated, and awesome.
Season #5: Matt wanted to sit this one out. We added Mark, Jason, and Amanda. It was 95% written and 95% of the props were completed but then Kate and Mark moved to Seattle and things got put on hold. Kate moved back but then COVID struck. Things are in limbo and it’s unclear if season #4 will happen.