Community Dining Table A recent dinner as part of the Community Dining group in Chicago reminded me how nourishing a meal can be – both for the sustenance of the food and also for the exchange of meaningful conversation. As I sat down for a plant-based Indian dinner prepared by the Chutney Devis at a private residence in Bucktown, I immediately felt warm and comfortable. Fellow diners were new to me, but we quickly bonded over mismatched chairs and Chicago parking frustrations. The night unfolded with beautiful flavors and thoughtful discussion. Swirled amidst spicy plantain stews and braised okra was genuine laughter and honest curiosity. It reminded me of the church potlucks from my childhood. Instead of 7-layer bars, though, we feasted on cardamom-infused rice pudding. We need more events like this. We crave genuine social interaction. Beyond filtered pictures and cute emoji’s, we are looking for more opportunities to connect with real people. As a chef, I love that food is the vehicle to drive that connection. For over 3 years, I’ve run my own business as a personal chef in Chicago. I specialize in catering to clients with restrictive diets, which include Celiac (gluten-free), Crohn’s (low-reside), Ketogenic (low carb/high fat), Paleo (grain-free, GMO-free), vegan (meat and dairy-free), Allergy-free, and everything in between. Before that, I spent over 2 years developing recipes for Whole Foods Market’s Wellness Club, following a strict protocol of whole-foods, plant-based, oil-free, low-salt, no sugar, no syrup, no refined flours….AAAAHHH! Enough. Each of these “no” descriptors can become a barrier to communal eating. An ritual that should bring people together – sitting at a table to share a meal – can fall apart to individual dietary needs. As a chef, I find this particularly striking. I fell in love with food’s power as a universal connector, cutting across language barriers and cultural differences to build instant bonds. To hear of food causing separation and isolation is saddening. It is difficult to hear of a teenage girl, afraid to go out to lunch with her friends, for fear of gluten contamination in the deep fryer. Or a vegan who must listen to a lecture deriding her food choices while sitting at the Thanksgiving table. I am extremely grateful for the work that I do. I get to use my talents as a chef to connect people and celebrate that universal language of food. Creating meals the whole family can enjoy, I remove that barrier. On the night of my Community Dining experience, barriers were also removed. In order to fully appreciate the meal and the company, all of the guests humbly sat down at the table with open minds and hungry stomachs. We came eager to taste the food. We were hungry to savor our dining companions. We crave social interaction in a visceral way. We crave food on a sensual level – the smell, the sight, the taste. These two elements feed off each other to create a unique experience. There is power in Community Dining. Getting back to the basic ritual of a shared meal, thoughtful discussion can lead to productive change. I am excited to see how this group grows into a movement. References: Online Etymology Dictionary: About the Author: Chicago Personal Chef Katie Simmons Chicago Personal Chef Katie Simmons Katie is a Personal Chef based in Chicago. She specializes in creating delicious, healthy recipes for those with special dietary concerns like gluten-free, oil-free, and vegan. Outside of the kitchen, she is a Fitness Instructor for Equinox, with over 13 years’ experience in the fitness industry. For fun, she loves to travel, with her most recent travel involving 10 days of hiking in the Patagonia of Argentina and Chile. You can check out more of her healthy, vegetarian recipes and videos at: