TableTribes: Conversation with a side of dinner


The first picnic in the series was moved into a Georgetown building due to the weather. (Katie Warren/GoKateShoot)

If the prospect of a dinner party full of strangers isn’t enough to make your palms sweat, imagine one where you must apply just to be invited.

To gain entry to the TableTribes Summer Picnic Series salon-style dinners, that’s exactly what would-be picnickers must do. But click your way through the online form, and it’s readily apparent this isn’t quite like that time you applied to Harvard.

Question 1: “What does your life taste like as a pie? How does job security, finding a roommate, a new baby . . . translate into the bubbling, flaky confines of one of the world’s most beloved foods?”

Unlike some of the city’s supper clubs, pop-ups and hip parties, TableTribes “is not about exclusivity,” explains the organization’s founder Hosan Lee. “It’s about people being of the same mind-set. The people I want to attract are positive people, people who believe the best in other humans, and that we can actually do something to make the world a better place.”

Once you’re accepted, you’re officially part of the tribe, an eclectic mix of thinkers and doers who will arrive Sundays to expound upon an ever-changing theme over dinner and drinks. (The location, generally a picnic site, is disclosed via e-mail only a day before the event.)

With the threat of rain looming, the recent inaugural picnic moved indoors; the event was relocated from a Georgetown park to a charmingly raw vacant building, where artificial grass was unfurled, white linens were spread out and hundreds of candles flickered, adding a romantic glow to the night. It looked, uncannily, like a picnic.

The dinner’s focus was “Order: How people make sense of the world around them.” Lee enlisted Robert Egger, the founder of D.C. Central Kitchen; style consultant Grant Harris, who pondered the role of fashion; and longtime journalist Richard Sergay, who regaled the crowd with a story of South Africa, and how the nation elegantly recovered when its sense of order was upended. In coming weeks, gallerists will join CEOs and State Department employees to discuss new themes.

Last year, Lee had a series of dinner parties, known as the No. 68 Project, that were more formal affairs, with multicourse meals prepared by chefs such as Graffiato’s Mike Isabella and drinks made by mixologists such as Columbia Room’s Derek Brown. They were a coveted ticket, but emphasized dining, not necessarily connections, Lee says.

That’s not the case with the summer picnics, where the meal is served buffet-style (the first night’s Spanish sausages, saffron rice and corn fritters were provided by an area food truck, while bartender J.P. Caceres of Bourbon Steak sent out light, herbal cocktails for the crowd to savor.)

The informality allows guests to kick off their shoes, sprawl out and get to know each other better — many, many business cards were exchanged — which is Lee’s ultimate goal for the events. Connections are what make each dinner come together, Lee says, from procuring the location to navigating the dinner service to exploring the theme.

“This is completely collaborative,” Lee says. “It’s really just ‘How do we make this project happen, how do we bring people together?’ ”

Asked why he became involved with TableTribes and its founder Lee, Egger says that among those who seek change, “There’s two schools — anger and avarice, or hope. And Hosan is a big believer in the positive.”

When is it? Sundays from 7-10 p.m. through Aug. 26 (except July 29).

How do I attend? Would-be dinner guests should visit www.tabletribes.com and click “request an invite.”

How much does it cost? $65 per person for each event; it includes food and a selection of cocktails. Once invited, guests can attend one or all of the events, if tickets are available.

Lavanya Ramanathan is a professional eater/drinker/thinker for Weekend and the Going Out Guide. University of Texas. Northwestern University. Rap fan.
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