I love that there is an assigned reading list for your dinner guests; can you talk about that choice? Also, what are you currently reading?
i try to swim 6 days a week. i heard a lady say about herself "i know how to swim but i can't tread water." i have adopted this response. it's a perfect description of my current swimming life, and much more descriptive than my usual response ("i'm not a strong swimmer") to the question of whether i can swim.
i am not a strong reader, better yet, i read everyday but not with any intentionality or with the sort of cohesiveness and structure books provide. i am currently not reading all the books on my night stool. i am currently reading a lot of soccer news from espn.com-- it's really the most fabulous writing. i am also reading copious amounts of hip hop gossip sites-- it's fun. for my work, and life, because the two are one, i read mostly academic papers, and articles, which is sometimes difficult and dense and reinforces the pleasure i find in my other readings (sports and hip hop).
as far as the required reading for my dinner series, it's important because it allows everybody to be grounded in the same reality, then we can disagree based on mutually agreed upon principles.
Your most recent project Saarjt is tackling the theme of wealth inequity. The reading guide is incredible, it includes themes that cover crucial aspects of wealth disparity, and the menu makes me want to cry. What is your creative process for each dinner project? How do these pieces come together?
i move intuitively. i move iteratively. i try to give myself a runway so i can keep evolving right up until the start of the project, and even then continue to evolve through it. i usually start by designing the collateral material, digital flyer, information packet, website, etc. this process is also iterative and fast paced-- moving with the spirit if you will. then i begin sharing the idea with many people, turning it over in conversation until some appointed time when the confidence in it's maturity arrives. then i push go.
As someone who has (unfortunately) never attended one of your dinners, I'm dying to know what the energy is like. Do you create dishes that complement the themes of evening? What music plays, and is the music selection in dialogue with the topics of discussion? What is the demographic of people that turn up?
the dinners are freewheeling just like me. i am a fan of structurelessness and i have been warned about it but i can't help myself it seems.
i prefer to create a loose, framework and then improvise in the space. i am not a strong scripted performer, maybe because i have a stutter which is more pronounced when i have to deliver prepared remarks. whatever it is i prefer a free jazz model, interacting with the space, diners and my apprehension of the moment.
the dishes, music and dialogue are not usually in dialogue. they are dissonant pieces given their own individual consideration. eventually they conspire to create an evening that is usually engaging in some way or other, pleasant or provocative or even disappointing.
I imagine that the experiences differ greatly with each new city or community to which bring your dinner project, can you talk about that? Can you imagine doing this in Lagos; how do you see that playing out?
this is a very interesting question. a good friend of mine said i should do a dinner in lagos, and i balked because cooking nigerian food for nigerians seems redundant especially if the event is premised on being unique. however she told me that combination of food and discussion is what makes my events special and why it is especially relevant in nigeria. i can't imagine what it would be like in lagos but i want to find out.
What future do you want for your dinners?
that they continue.
Tell me about your most pungent memory of food from childhood?
i am thinking...
i don't remember any, i only recollect in current moments through innocuous experiences what i know must be memories because they feel familiar. for example i am currently serving party jollof rice with pureed golden beets in coconut milk, served with sweet pickled cabbage. i had a bite and immediately the taste dropped me into the middle of a party in lagos, and i swore i was eating jollof rice with salad dressed heinz salad dressing. i was sure i was there but i wasn't. i was in new orleans.
I must ask, how does the current political atmosphere in the United States influence the topics of discussion at the dinners?
i am an artist responding to his time, everything from the personal to the political influences my work.