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The latest concept in dating and dining: Speed Plating

Chef Danny Boome tries something new

By Antoine Craigwell

Celebrity Chef Danny Boome’s concept of “speed plating”, a take on combining speed dating with dinner, was a welcome change from some of the tired old three-minute dating routines. At Tree & Garden restaurant in the upper East Village on Tuesday evening, more than 40 people gathered to sample Boome’s creations, in four courses, and to engage in an unusual activity: in as much time as it takes to complete eating a course to match and connect four different people with each other. The guests for the dinner, selected from marketing promotions, included public relations executives, representatives from the media, teachers, non-profit administrators, lawyers, doctors, and music producers.

According to Boome’s bio on dannyboome.tv, the celebrity chef from Food Network’s Rescue Chef, started his culinary training in 1999 as a cook in Switzerland, while as an au pair for a local family. After training at the West Wind Inn in Canada, he attended the Grange Cookery School in England. Following his culinary training, he started out as a young chef at the fashionable Asia de Cuba restaurant in St. Martins Lane London Hotel, where he recognized his passion for fusion cooking, the concept of concentrated ingredients with intense flavors being blended with select others to produce enhanced or amplified tastes. Boome launched his television career in 2004 on UKTV Food’s co-production Wild and Fresh for which he travelled across Canada to obtain the best home-grown ingredients and produce each province had to offer. Returning to England, he hosted Danny By the Sea, Coastal Kitchen and Local Food Heroes, and was a regular cooking feature ITV’s Summer This Morning. Boome became the “Rescue Chef” in 2008.

After being plied with copious amounts of champagne and lychee flavored drinks, the guests, introduced themselves to each other, and began the process of getting to know each other, preempting the formalized introductory process. The ladies were ushered first into the restaurant’s back garden seating area, where on a summer evening, the temperature was just right, neither stiflingly hot and humid nor prematurely chilly. Each man was given an envelope with a number printed on a card when he arrived, followed, and found his place opposite a woman at a numbered table. Throughout the dinner, Tree’s wait staff responded by ensuring that glasses were topped up with either red or white wine, politely and unobtrusively serving the courses, and clearing the tables.

Before serving the appetizer, Boome in his announcement of the process for the evening made a singularly significant request. He asked that the ladies refrain from using their cell phones and not to place them on the tables, which hinted at the trend where people at dinner or sharing meals spent time on their phones texting or in conversation, rather than with their dining companions. One diner suggested that sharing a meal with someone who preferred to text or be on their phone was not only rude, but showed a blatant disregard and disrespect to the person with whom they were supposedly sharing the meal.

Then the first course, a shared dish, arrived. It was pan seared asparagus with saffron aioli and grilled artichokes with horseradish mayo. The asparagus, tender, and saffron aioli and horseradish mayo presented easily identifiable flavors, teasing the palate, but a quick glance around the garden suggested that many didn’t quite take to the artichokes. Conversation between the pairs at tables seemed spirited and many seemed to be genuinely entering into the spirit of the evening by getting to know the person opposite, and regarding the experience as trying something new, something different.

When this course had ended, the men were again given cards with table numbers and asked to proceed to their new dates. The second course which followed, as Broome explained, depended on a person’s taste buds, which consisted of a new experience for everyone. The women were given blindfolds and their male eating companions fed lychee, poached pear in red wine, and liver pate on crackers to them and then repeated for the men. While this experience played with and challenged the senses, coming so soon after being introduced to someone for the first time, it required leaps of trust in the person sitting opposite feeding another food, and raised questions of how people responded to each other along with the bonds and commonalities food creates.

The third course, preceded again by numbered cards given to the men who changed places and had the opportunity to eat and speak with a different woman, featured either seared scallops on a bed of wasabi and mashed avocado drizzled with lemon grass oil or lamb cutlets with a side of roman salad, grilled zest polenta and hot fig jus. Everyone it seemed enjoyed this course, commenting that the scallops and the lamb cutlets were tasty. Instead of the usual litany of questions, conversation at one table, for instance, centered on a discussion of the Patriot’s Act, the U.S. Constitution and probable cause, and the case for the mosque near where the World Trade Center towers once stood. But as a result of one of the diner’s position within city government and the presence of press at the event, there was a reticence to speak more openly. During this course, creating a moment of mirth for one of the ladies, and to his obvious embarrassment, her dinner partner’s chair back tilted away from him, and he went into a slow fall over to another guest, appearing intoxicated, as if he had too much wine.

After the meat course, another numbered card followed with the men having to change places for dessert. This course, as with the first, was also shared, and seemed to bring the dinner full circle. It consisted of lemon grass and ginger panacotta, chili chocolate dipped strawberries, baked figs and fresh cream, finished with ginger snap cookies topped with mango chutney. While spooning mouthfuls of pancetta or sampling the chutney, conversation at one table was focused on one of the participants, a psychiatrist, and talked of how as a professional she separated the work side of who she is from her personal self when participating in an event such as this.

At the dinner’s end, the guests were invited to exchange information with those with whom they would like to remain in contact. As an observation, several of the female guests had come to the dating dinner with their close friends, where at least two groups of three women knew each other well and could be seen after the dinner comparing notes about their respective dinner partners.

August 20, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment