When Ronen Tal traveled to Argentina three years ago, he was expecting great food. It’s no secret that Argentina is a culinary hot spot, with empanadas, dulce de leche, and steaks galore. What Ronen wasn’t expecting to find was an entirely unfamiliar format of eating. Puerta Cerrada, which literally translates to “closed door,” denotes a restaurant located in the home of a local chef.
“My friend and I found ourselves sitting down to eat with 10 strangers, with all of us seated together around a large table in the chef’s dining room. This particular Puerta Cerrada was run by a couple – our hostess was the chef and our host the sommelier,” describes Ronen. “The proximity of our seating, the home setting, and the general ambience led to us all quickly getting to know each other. My friend and I even went out dancing that night with a few people we met at the dinner! I can’t think of any other time where I’ve gone out to a restaurant and had that happen… and lest I forget, the food was incredible!”
When Ronen returned to his home base in Toronto, he was feeling inspired. Ronen, who is in his late twenties and spends his days working for a fundraising firm, wanted to bring this food sharing concept into his condo by the St. Lawrence Market.
“It actually took me some time to work up the courage to embark on this. I love to cook and have always enjoyed potlucks, but I had never hosted and fed 8 people in my place – let alone a full 3-course meal with wine pairings!” says Ronen. When he did give Roro’s Table a shot, the response from friends inspired him to continue with the endeavor. “I started by inviting approximately 20 of my friends to gauge their interest and got a positive response from 16 of them! I’m hoping in the next year to make an official mailing list and blog, so that even more people can join these events.”
Ronen’s premise is simple; he wants to share delicious food, meet new people, and create unforgettable evenings. For each of the meals, he selects three friends randomly from the email respondents and each of them brings a guest with them. The guests are not aware of who else is attending until they arrive at Ronen’s condo on the evening of the event. They’re given an approximate price, which will cover the raw cost of ingredients only (usually around $50 including wine pairings), and asked for any specific dietary restrictions… and that’s it.
While the guests are excitedly unprepared for the evening, Ronen spends hours planning the perfect combination of dinner and drinks to show them a good time.
“On the morning of the event, I go to St. Lawrence Market and pick up all of the ingredients for the meal. I then pop over to the [flagship] LCBO on Queens Quay and spend an hour with their Vintages experts selecting wines that will pair with each course,” he says.
The effort is definitely worth it for Ronen. When he thinks about Roro’s Table in comparison to a restaurant meal, it’s an easy win for the former. He doesn’t believe they’re even comparable experiences, saying that “when you go to a restaurant, you are expecting some level of formality… and you are separated from the cooking process.” Ronen’s vision pivots away from that formality and divide, aiming to create a shared experience.
Ronen’s not alone in this exciting new trend. One of our blog postings from April, via CBC News, took readers through this trending topic of in-home dining experiences. When asked why this type of dining is gaining popularity, Ronen cites two root causes.
“With the increased levels of social media, internet activity, and supposed ‘connections’ we all have, I think people still feel very isolated. I started this out because I wanted to have more dinners with friends while also having the opportunity to meet new people. The best place to socialize and connect, at least for me, has always been over a meal – and not just a rushed bite somewhere, but a full evening. Gathering around my table every couple months lets us all do that,” he says. He also notes that the sharing economy, including Roro’s Table, tend to cost the users less than the traditional format.
While Ronen is an amateur chef, his inspiration was drawn from professional Argentinian chefs. Pop-ups and other out-of-restaurant experiences by restaurant chefs are more popular now than ever before. Open Table, the popular online and app-based reservation platform, wrote a piece last fall stating that, “Costs for proprietors are higher than ever, between real estate and staffing, leading chefs to explore pop-ups and other creative concepts in lieu of opening new restaurants.”
So, how can the average person get involved in this out-of-restaurant trend? A couple of ideas to start you off:
- If you’re handy in the kitchen, why not host your own version of an in-home restaurant? If you’d rather not charge guests for their meal, you could go the supper club route and have a rotation with friends where everyone takes a turn hosting.
- If you’re the crafty Pinterest type (or have friends who fit this description), you could take it up a notch with some cool homemade centerpieces or menus on each plate.
- If those last ones sounded scary, and you’re more into the eating side of this than the cooking, you can check out Chez Lisgar, the in-home restaurant features in the aforementioned April post.