I Just recently I learned about this thing "communal dining" - at first sight it looks like what we are doing. Then I read about it and I read people complaining about it and why they did not like it... I am very happy that we are doing communal dining - even if we are not doing communal dining, actually, let me turn things around, I am going to reclaim the name - we ARE doing the real communal dinners. And here I also argue why if you attend a real communal dinner and you have a negative experience like one described by some food critics, then you are kind of missing the whole point.
What is the dining experience at our farm? Well, first of all, we are NOT a restaurant. We do NOT want to be a restaurant and we do NOT provide a restaurant experience.
We open our home to a few guests every month and we cook for them and pamper them the way we would with our own guests at home in Italy. We provide a warm, homemade meal. If you are thinking of food like spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna with ricotta cheese and pepperoni pizza you can stop right now. First of all our food is authentic Italian without compromises. When we cook we like to prepare our own puff pastry for voul-au-vent filled with local cheese fonduta and wild morels mushrooms we harvested in our woods. Now multiply that for 5 to 8 courses. Yes, that type of homemade cooking.
The food, made with love and respect for what our land and farm provides is only one of the ingredients. The setting is the second secret ingredient. When you walk into this 1850s farmhouse, where no one wall is straight, you cannot help but feel comfortable. This is a farmhouse that has hosted a dozen or so farm families over the years. When you sit at the table you are taking part of a ritual that unites you with the dozens of farmers that set there before. You can feel the genuine commitment, the struggles, and the determination of the many hands that farmed this land. And then, you get distracted by a rooster that jumped on the bush in front of the window and is spying on you, or the host (me) announces that it will take few extra minutes to serve dessert and points outside the other window where you can see a flock of sheep running freely down the street with the "chef" that is now running after them trying to get them back in the fences. Things are real here - we are not a "hobby" farm or a farm exclusively built for visitors - we farm.
Food, hard work, love for the land and for the animals; that is why people come here and that is why strangers are not really strangers... they all have something in common and when they sit down they have a communal dining experience. At our farmhouse a meal take a few hours. Food is not a quick way to provides you with the energy enough to run to the next thing. Food IS the thing you are committed to doing. After hours or days spent preparing the ingredients and then mixing them together in authentic recipes, our only job is to be mindful of the experience and enjoy it as much as possible. Each bite. Slow down, have fun, talk and relax. No one is bringing the check to tell you it is time to clear the table for another guest. People from all ages and all backgrounds surprise themselves with something in common, laughters and chatters starts filling the rooms and the few hours go by faster than you would imagine.
At our farm, this is a communal dinner. I guess I understand why some food critics are not happy with the concept of communal dining at restaurants. First of all, their main job is to criticize, and I imagine people may run out of things to write about - it may be hard to be funny and entertaining when talking positively about a restaurant and it is a lot easier to be witty and funny by complaining about something. Second, I cannot see how a sense of community can be achieved in a restaurant where people come and go at different times, meals take 30 to 40 minutes to be consumed and people may not have very much in common. There is also a different role for the people attending one of our dinner vs. customers at a restaurant. The customers at a restaurants are "consumers" of a service. People coming to our farm are partners in our agricultural community - they have an active role in supporting the type of agriculture we use and are our accomplices in working towards preserving old cooking traditions and practicing agriculture in a way that respects our animals and our land.