Wednesday March 6 kicked off a series of cultural events at SXSW sponsored by Brooklyn Brewery. Austin is the first stop on the MASH tour, which will bring “adventure in food, film, music, books and beer” to 11 cities coast to coast. When Brooklyn Brewery heard about Chaos Cooking, they invited the grassroots interactive supper club to join the MASH tour.
Started in a small Brooklyn kitchen back in 2009, Chaos Cooking is the brainchild of Joe Che and his fiancée Margaret Gere. The idea is simple: a group of 20 or more strangers come together in a home kitchen to simultaneously prepare dishes, enjoy the fruits of their labor, and all help clean up so that the space is left exactly as they had found it. The execution is not as simple, but definitely encourages spontaneous creativity and teamwork.
At the recent Austin debut, one participant brought a portable stove, while another toasted crostinis in several toaster oven batches. The can opener I’d thought to bring got more use than I ever would have imagined. And while I remembered a Microplane, I somehow didn’t think to bring a potholder — though a fellow cook offered me his baguette bag, which managed to work just fine.
One team of four collaborated by rolling Caribbean egg rolls and steaming rice-coated pearl meatballs in the giant steamer they’d brought along. I found stove space to char my Brussels sprouts in a cast iron pan, and others started calling dibs on it when I finished. A neighboring cook reminded me to roll my lemons on the countertop to get more juice from them. Above us, a chalkboard read “Mi Casa es Su Casa (feel free to do some dishes)” — which is exactly what we all pitched in to do at the end of the night.
“I think some of the beauty of the event,” says Che, “is that it’s so participatory and it breaks the ice immediately. It’s such a simple concept of eating and drinking together, but people are sometimes a little scared to do it with strangers.”
What started as Che’s birthday celebration in 2009 has since branched out to Chicago, San Francisco, Winston-Salem, Amsterdam, Paris, Toronto and beyond. They’ve ranged from more intimate 20-person affairs to massive 150-strong cooking events.
“We realized there was a big pull toward it,” says Che, “because we were getting a lot of interest from people — so much that we couldn’t fit everyone — and then media started writing about it.” Before they even had a website or mailing list, Chaos Cooking was featured on NPR and The New York Times.
Now, Che and Gere are continuing to develop the website, hoping to add more follow-up by posting site-specific photos and recipes after an event. And soon they will release Android and iPhone apps. “We would like it so that, in Austin, someone hits three buttons and 20 Austin people are at their house cooking,” explains Che.
“We want it to be really simple, but the [same] concept... We just wanted to capture that feeling of family, of everyone being in the kitchen, just cooking, drinking and talking, being close... And I think by, on a small scale, just everyone having to work together like this… [it] allows people to find friends, find networking, even find love — it definitely has happened!”
For more information on how to host your own Chaos Cooking event or to find upcoming dinners in your area, visit their website.