New York City is the theatre capitol of the world—but it's also long been a destination for some of the world's most innovative chefs. Now, foodie culture meets theatre meets intimate communal evening in Story Course, “an interactive meal and storytelling experience” that is the brain child of Broadway actor Adam Kantor (The Band’s Visit, Fiddler on the Roof) and Brian Bordainick (found of the culinary events company Dinner Lab). Like Sleep No More or Mozart at Midnight, Story Course’s first “production,” How Do You Hug a Tiger?, is about to put the new venture on the map of must-have, only-in-New-York experiences.
How Do You Hug a Tiger? pairs six courses (the food) with six chapters (the theatre) to tell the story of Korean-American immigrant and Michelin chef Jae Jung. So if Chapter One: Rooftop Sauce is a quick story about how Jung first fell in love with food watching her mother stir her special sauce on their rooftop from dusk until dawn, Course One is Chil-Jeol-Pan, “seven essentials [vegetables and meats] of Korean tradition enveloped by a crepe with Mama Kim’s rooftop chili vinaigrette.”
But what makes the evening so special isn’t just the curated menu and corresponding origin tale—it’s the communal telling. Each diner receives a color-coded script at his or her plate. If you have a crane at your seat matching the color of the text in your script, you’re the reader for the room. (So bring your acting chops as well as your appetite.) And through this collective telling of the story, you meet your tablemates. You bond. You share. You literally break bread (or in this case a seaweed cracker) together.
“I truly think this is the only dining that makes you a better person for having experienced it,” says production assistant Mindy Lvoff.
“I’ve wondered how—like text, music, costumes, scenery, etc.—can food be a part of the conversation?” says Kantor of what led to the creation of Story Course. “I think food and stories—and the combination of the two—are the most important rituals we have.” Turns out Bordainick had similar questions and the two combined forces towards a workshop of a food/theatre project based on Salvador Dali’s cookbook. But then, in April 2017, Kantor, Bordainick, Benj Pasek (Dear Evan Hansen), Joshua Harmon (Significant Other), and other big Broadway names put together an immersive Passover seder. Suddenly, the idea of the exodus and migration sparked a light bulb moment. “We’re living in a city teeming with immigrant chefs,” Kantor realized. “We’re consuming their stories on a daily basis without fully knowing or understanding on an emotional contextual level what is behind the stories.”
And Story Course found its common thread to weave together its future “dinner plays,” and found its first subject in Chef Jung. Her personal history deals with migration, a complicated relationship between her and her mother, and the balance of Korean tradition with global modernity. Having just finished his Broadway run in Fiddler, tradition was the magic word. (“Also, Brian said that her food was f*cking delicious and I generally trust his taste,” Kantor laughs.)
How Do You Hug a Tiger? serves stories through February 23 (click here for details) and an upcoming Course will follow “a chef whose parents actually have an epic tale of immigration from Iran after the overthrow of the Shah—so it’s a mix of his own story and his parents,” Kantor explains.
Whether it’s the stellar flavors, the simple interactive script, the emotional story, or the intimate setting that has everyone oohing around the table, it’s likely the combination of all elements— like any balanced dish—that elevate the plate to its full potential.
Ruthie Fierberg is the Senior Features Editor of Playbill covering all things theatre and co-hosting the Opening Night Red Carpet livestreams on Playbill's Facebook. Follow her on Twitter @RuthiesATrain, on Instagram @ruthiefierceberg, or via her website.