A preview of The Kitchen 231, Columbus’ ambitious foray into participatory cuisine
By Chris GaittenPublished March 1, 2013
What does “The Catcher in the Rye” taste like?
No, not like 62-year-old paper and ink or leather-bound adolescent alienation. Nor does it taste like a mouthful of chewed up LCD plastic and dual-core processor bits from a Kindle Fire. According to Anne Boninsegna and Jen Lindsay, it tastes like toasty Jarlsberg cheese bites, a “Not at all phony” wedge salad, and malted milk or rye whiskey cocktails.
The two friends are the driving forces behind The Kitchen 231, an innovative new restaurant and event space in German Village that is prepping to take the city by storm. The restaurant concept is many things, but at its core, it’s an immersive culinary experience in which patrons collectively prepare and then enjoy a themed – even literary – multi-course meal under the women’s guidance.
“What we’re hoping is that people will come together because they love food or cooking or both and share that experience with other people,” said Boninsegna. “It’s like going to a friend’s house for dinner, and that part where you say, ‘Is there anything I can do?’ we say, ‘Yes.’”
“I want it to be a bridge between the patron experiencing it and participating in it,” Lindsay added. “Whiskin’ cream to fillin’ up the wine glass – whatever your level of comfort or interest is in participating in that night, you are welcome to do that.” The idea originated from a wood-fired cooking workshop the two women took together at Franklin Park Conservatory, where they both worked. For a while, they planned to start a taco truck as a “transportable catering kitchen,” but ultimately they settled on the concept of combining the learning aspect of the workshop with the experience of throwing parties in Boninsegna’s home.
“There’s a thread of this in a lot of different things; there’s nothing that’s woven together as this is,” said Lindsay. “We have an idea we feel is pretty unique to Columbus and pretty unique to most places.” The concept was pushed toward fruition by a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised just over $45,000, the third-most ever locally.
All The Kitchen’s food, ingredients, and equipment will be set out ahead of time, with instructions so couples, families, coworkers, friends, and new acquaintances can intermingle, cook, drink, and enjoy without the drawbacks of prep and cleaning. Monthly schedules will provide different dining themes with corresponding levels of culinary skill/adventurousness. From ethnic and regional fare to molecular gastronomy to meals inspired by famous novels, art, and music, the menus will encourage patrons to tackle cuisine that some might find too daunting to attempt at home. There will be casual, non-participatory themes as well, like Taco Tuesdays and Hangover Brunch on Saturday mornings.
Lindsay and Boninsegna said The Kitchen will provide a perfect place for groups to create a customized menu and hold more traditional events like rehearsal dinners, parties, and reunions.
The co-founders will also invite Columbus’ top chefs to come in for a night so foodies can have the rare experience of cooking alongside the city’s best. The chefs could use the space to experiment, whether that is a fresh dish or a whole new restaurant idea. The high-concept eatery was designed to meet the city’s changing whims – a space to create our own dynamic restaurant each night.
“We’ve tried to be creative about ways to engage people, so we hope that those will turn into people saying, ‘So what else can I come and do here?’” said Boninsegna. In a few short months, Columbus will have its own Kitchen, where the line between restaurant and customer disappears.
The Kitchen 231, located at 231 E Livingston Ave., is targeting a May opening date, but will be taking reservations before then through its website, www.thekitchen231.com (under construction as of this writing). For more information on the restaurant and themed dining events, check out the founders’ Kickstarter project page at www.kickstarter.com.