Food Tales

Cooking With Chaos in a Stranger's Kitchen

by Samantha Razook Murphy

Scenes from the chaotic kitchen. Photos (top row): courtesy of Chaos Cooking; courtesy of Curious Jane.

Samantha Razook Murphy, creator of girls camp Curious Jane, attended a totally random dinner party. And got hooked on having strangers in the kitchen.

BROOKLYN – Last fall, I chanced upon an Edible Brooklyn article about Chaos Cooking, a DIY dining event wherein a stranger opens up his/her kitchen to a bunch of other strangers bearing pots, pans, and groceries for an impromptu dinner party among new friends.

No designated menus, no specific tasks. It's come as you are and BYO everything. Everyone cooks, everyone eats, and everyone cleans up together.

My friend Melisa and I decided to give it a go. Armed with our utensils, recipes, and more than enough wine, we turned up at a sparsely furnished apartment in Bushwick. It was bustling with what looked like 30 people slicing and dicing and having a grand time. We found some space at the table and got to work.

Melisa planned to make a savory chorizo dish, and I brought ingredients for buttery baked shrimp. We had been strategic about our choice of recipes, given the weight of groceries and pans we were willing to tote. A bit of pre-prep is acceptable, but we were told that the bulk of it needed to be done on site — the chaotic charm of having 30 cooks in a kitchen. As dishes came off the stove or out of the oven, they were passed around for sampling and sharing. Instead of a traditional seated dinner, it was one big, joyous jumble of cooking and tasting (and drinking!) simultaneously.

I got to talking with the charming young man at my elbow, who turned out to be the instigator of the madness. Joe Che launched Chaos Cooking in 2009 as a birthday dinner experiment. Inspired by the experience of having 18 friends crammed into the kitchen together, he continued experimenting with themes, friends, and new faces. These days, anyone in Austin, Boston, SF, LA, NY, and international foodie cities like Amsterdam and Paris can sign up to be part of the Chaos Cooking community. Anyone case host. Anyone can RSVP.

Buoyed by a few glasses of Bordeaux, Melisa and I pitched an idea on the spot for a Red Hot Valentine's Day cooking party. Che was into it. We secured a magical loft space in Brooklyn's Gowanus neighborhood, rented ovens (four) and tables (twelve) and dishware essentials. We hired a DJ, rented an old-school photo booth, and put the word out.

More than 100 people turned up, including three guys from Germany with a borrowed pot from which they ladled a divine Thai coconut curry. Another gal, fresh from London, came with a generous bounty of Asian groceries. When the ovens blew a fuse, no one missed a beat. Some adjusted their recipes, others camp-styled it with sterno cans. The most intrepid chefs cooked over a four-wick candle. Couples and singles, locals and visitors — everyone thrown together — created the most delicious mess of a dinner party.

WANT TO JOIN THE PARTY?

Plan your dish and bring some gore to Chaos Cooking: Blood + Guts, Thursday, October 31, at a secret location in Brooklyn. There are still a few tickets left.