Editor’s Letter: Sharing the Table
I used to think of communal dining as just another occupational hazard.
While serving as the Detroit Free Press’ restaurant critic, I did countless interviews during the shutdown phase of the COVID-19 pandemic with other media outlets in which I predicted — repeatedly and with what might have been a slight sense of joy — the death of the communal dining trend.
If COVID were going to have one lasting effect on how restaurants work, it would be the end of sharing tablespace with strangers as we knew it.
And while that has largely proven true over the last couple years, we’re beginning to see signs of its return. At Frame, we now offer diners the option to sit with another party — and some are beginning to take us up on the offer.
Perhaps more surprisingly, I’m actually welcoming that return myself.
Maybe its absence made my heart grow fonder. Or maybe I’ve just come to cherish the profound and lasting connections I’ve made as a result of rubbing elbows with perfect strangers around a dinner table.
I recently traveled to New Orleans with a good friend of mine, and it took us explaining how we met to someone else for me to really appreciate the power of communal dining.
Before Jon Kung became a TikTok sensation with millions of fans, they threw underground dinner parties in their Eastern Market loft, where guests — mostly in-the-know types searching for a sense of adventure and story on the plate — sat around Kung’s long dining table as the inventive courses spilled forth.
Anika sat next to me and recognized my name from my byline. We struck up polite conversation, sharing the usual pleasantries, some laughs, and plenty of wine. We said goodbye at the end of the night and went our separate ways.
But a couple months later, I found myself sitting across from Anika again, at yet another communal table. To bring it all full circle, this second encounter happened at Frame in its first few months of existence.
That second encounter sealed the deal. It was an early seating on a beautiful summer night, so afterward, Anika and her companion and my wife and I kept the good times going over more wine on a restaurant patio down the street. We realized that despite our many differences — in age, background, race, gender, profession — we shared enough of a love of food and wine to do it again with a little more intention.
Since then, Anika has become one of my most frequent dining companions and closest friends. We’ve shared many meals in the five intervening years, and gradually the love of food that first bound us became less of the central focus, giving way to deeper conversations about love, life, family, friendships, and all the other high and low points life has sent our way.
If not for those communal dining experiences, I wouldn’t have what’s become one of my most treasured relationships. And, to be sure, Anika is just one of many strangers who’ve turned to friends thanks to our sharing a meal around the same table.
So while COVID hasn’t gone away just yet, I hope I was wrong in my early predictions. I hope we can come back to sharing space with strangers again.
Because collective trauma calls for collective healing. And the dinner table may just be the place for it.
It’s in this spirit of sharing that we bring you our next issue of Frame Stories, which is a bit more conceptual than our previous output, designed to act as a salve against the isolation engendered by the pandemic, a reminder that sharing with one another is a powerful action in itself. Sharing food, especially, comes with all kinds of unforeseen benefits — there’s even science to back it up.
The sharing theme was partially inspired by chef Gabriel Botezan, whose residency at FRAMEbar this month (May 11 – June 5) focuses on a style of food designed for it: tapas. (Of note: TAPASbar might be one of the only places in southeast Michigan where you can order a porrón of txakoli and enjoy the pleasure of shooting cold Spanish wine into your friends’ mouths, as demonstrated in the photo above.)
Sharing is certainly at the heart of hospitality, as Saffron De Twah chef-owner Omar Anani so eloquently explains in this month’s Q&A.
“I think when people talk about sharing, intrinsically as people, we ask the question: ‘What’s in it for me?'” Anani says. “And sometimes it’s not about what’s in it for you. Sometimes it’s about filling other people’s cups. Of course, you can’t fill others’ unless yours is full, but having the ability to fill other people’s cups is the most rewarding thing on the planet.”
Sharing can also be an act of resistance against forces that aim to separate us. Former Metro Times staff writer Jerilyn Jordan reports on the power of the Seward Sharing Table, an outdoor food pantry that’s galvanized a New Center neighborhood to come together to stand up for itself against an unscrupulous landlord. Jerilyn first wrote about the origins of the Sharing Table for the Metro Times in the summer of 2020. Two years later, she returns to the essential community resource to find it under imminent threat.
Of course, in this day and age, sharing food happens just as often in the digital spaces of our existence as it does at the physical table. To help any would-be content creator, online food influencer extraordinaire Angela “The Kitchenista” Davis offers her pro tips for sharing food stories on social media.
We round out the issue with a duo of beverage stories: a column from Frame’s resident sommelier Sean Crenny about the virtues of large-format wine bottles, and a recipe from our “mixtress” Jaz’min Weaver for a shareable rum-spiked punch that will liven up any gathering.
Please dig in. And if you feel so compelled, please share Frame Stories with the people in your life who’d appreciate them.
Because we’d love nothing more than to turn a few more strangers into friends.
— Mark Kurlyandchik