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Dinners Put Strangers at the Same Table to Share Food and Thoughts

Dinners Put Strangers at the Same Table to Share Food and Thoughts

Ellen Warren | Chicago Tribune

When was the last time you sat down and had an interesting, thoughtful conversation with someone you just met?

How about never?

Lauren Beznos Grossman, a veteran of Chicago non-profit organizations, hopes to change that.

Earlier this year, combining her passions for bringing people of different backgrounds together and eating tasty restaurant meals, Grossman started Across the Table. Its aim? “Uniting Chicago one meal at a time.”

“I saw all these communities across Chicago that don’t really connect with each other,” said Grossman. To combat the problem, break down barriers and promote some intriguing talk among people who might not otherwise sit down together, she organizes small-group restaurant dinners built around a wide array of provocative topics.

At typical social gatherings, she said, “It’s hard to have deep conversation” and “everyone looks just like you.”

“I wanted to do something – in a fun way – to connect with people whose experiences are different than my own.”

Apparently others feel the same way. Since she started these biweekly dinners in June, she has had no trouble recruiting the maximum eight guests at the table where she cheerfully guides the conversation.

Recent restaurant forays have chewed over the role of friendship in our lives and the question of how we define family.

The topic last week at the Hyde Park dinner at Medici on 57th was built around the question of ethnic identity and how it affects where we live. It was compelling and – yup – fun.

Four bottles of wine (BYO) were shared. Lots of pizza and pasta were consumed by a group of participants whose ages and backgrounds varied hugely.

Among them was artist Luis DeLaTorre, 40, who lives in Bridgeport, where he first settled when he came to the United States from Mexico with his mom and two older brothers as an 8-year-old who spoke not a word of English.