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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

Clearly this is not your average dinner party small talk.

“I’m very easygoing. … I use the term black,” Lane answered, but she said that some people are hesitant to use the word, fearing it’s not politically correct or it will offend her.

Grossman, a former English teacher at Chicago’s Kelvyn Park High School, made sure that everyone got his or her say, and as the evening (was it the wine?) warmed up, the guests seemed ever more ready to tell stories from their very different lives.

Inquiring about “the role that food plays in our ethnic identity,” Grossman elicited tales of family dinners and rhapsodies about ethnic comfort food. Mana Hongisto, 32, who left Bulgaria when she was 19, confessed, “I feel like … I’m letting down my ethnicity” by not putting on lavish dinners.

Thus the conversation veered to gender roles. Do women have to be the cooks? “Do you want to go there?” asked Grossman. They did. Shah said he would not describe himself as a great chef, but when he prepares meals for his women friends, they tell him, “No man has ever cooked for me.”

Grossman said that the Across the Table dinners have led to surprisingly personal revelations and this gathering was no exception.

DeLaTorre reached back to his grade-school traumas, remembering there were fights in school because he and his brothers were so different from the other kids. “Then we discovered baseball. That made a connection. Kids accepted us. It was an easy transition to English.”

Fuller asked, “How do you break the cycle? How do you get [prejudice] out of the heads of kids?”

“I go back to the personal connection,” DeLaTorre said. He was talking about his experience as a little boy playing baseball, but it also summed up the essence of the dinner they were just finishing up.

Reflecting on his evening, DeLaTorre said it was “kind of intense.” But, “it was exactly what I hoped it would be.”

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ewarren@tribune.com


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