What a Dinner Experiment Taught Me About School

Photo: Tony Zanders

“The octopus should’ve been prepared like ceviche. It was too warm for me. I give it a two,” I shared with the group. “That’s funny, it was actually my favorite course so far, especially with that white wine pairing,” replied Jonathan. His rating for our first course at Dinner Lab, a pop-up restaurant experience that enables up-and-coming chefs to get feedback on their work, was probably higher than mine for the first course. But in the midst of our chatter, it dawned on me how human it felt to discover new things, learn more about yourself and the people around you, and play an active role in my education.

4.0 took our staff, along with Launch Cohort 9 to a Dinner Lab experience in New Orleans’ Central City neighborhood this Summer. It was my first. The underground supper club was founded in 2010 by 4.0’s previous Director of Entrepreneurial Investment Brian Bordainick, and has since expanded to 10 cities, grown to over 50 staff, and raised over $2 million in seed funding. The exclusivity of their limited memberships ensures every seat is filled each night, while the hands-on dining experience keeps diners engaged and off of their cell phones. In between each of the 5-7 courses, diners take time to complete feedback cards that compile specific data to help the chef improve various aspects of their meals.

I felt the joy of a new student — excited to discover new ideas and give feedback with the confidence that the teacher (or chef) would appreciate my perspective. Sharing this experience with people from different backgrounds and upbringings than mine made the learning exponentially better. Each course served as our anchor throughout the evening, oscillating between food and feedback, taking 2-3 minutes to complete our cards after each course. But the stories that were told as we waited for the next dish was where the real magic happened.

Liz Cole, our video producer, shared stories of a childhood in Antlers, Oklahoma — a rural midwestern town with less than 2,500 people. Her fiancee Ryan, a teacher at KIPP Renaissance in New Orleans, described things that made growing up in Austin, Texas similar to New Orleans. While we waited for the first course, 4.0’s Education Pioneer fellow and Minnesota native Anthony Berglund told us stories about the “Juicy Lucy” that the Twin Cities is known for. And Rooted School founder Jonathan Johnson added a layer of humor and sophistication to our party by announcing each course and wine pairing as the waiter left.

My wife and I were the only New Orleans natives in the group. We reflected on how energizing it felt to share a window into our experience growing up here, and for others to be genuinely intrigued by our perspective. Going home that evening feeling more informed, more in touch and more aware, I couldn’t help but to wonder if this is what school should be like: a culturally-responsive, participatory, informative, communal experience — one that leaves its students wanting more.

Founder & CEO at Skilltype. Inaugural EIR at Boston University Libraries. Board emeritus at Rooted School. Native New Orleanian.

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