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My menu's mushroom icon leads me to another table for the "Marco Polo" course, a sampler of Italian staples infused with flavors from stops on Polo's itinerary — a Middle Eastern spin on caprese salad, ravioli filled with chicken tikka masala, and a coconut-mango tiramisu, soaked in Thai tea instead of coffee, that blows my mind with the first forkful. I'm amazed by the skill cheftestants bring to Social Colander tables.

Chu agrees. "[The amateur chef] is someone who really appreciates food, really appreciates sharing that food, but doesn't often have an opportunity to do it," she says.

Our final course is "Inditalia," a dessert featuring chocolate gelato flavored with Indian spices, sprinkled with edible gold and silver hearts, and garnished with dehydrated cherries rehydrated with triple sec.

Gourmandizing and socializing with food-loving personalities is the easy part. Choosing favorites is the challenge. We're asked to scan QR codes again and use smartphones to rank our first, second, and third dish picks in three categories: taste, presentation, and creativity.

Watabe joins eager cheftestants in the kitchen and reads vote stats from his iPad. He announces "the Common Ground" as tonight's big winner, awarding the team a gift certificate to East by Northeast, a local fusion restaurant, and a bright-green colander they take turns wearing as a crown.

It's a festive end to a memorable night, one that makes it easy to understand why all five events so far have sold out, sometimes within hours of tickets going on sale. Chu and Watabe plan to build on the buzz. In July, they received a grant from the Awesome Foundation, which they're using to make Social Colander kits to send to other cities. They hope Social Colander becomes a household term — like the high-tech foodie version of a murder-mystery party.

"The biggest problem," Watabe says, "is that not a lot of people know how to spell 'colander.' "

NEXT UP FOR SOCIAL COLANDER: a Heaven and Hell showdown on October 20. Grab tickets ($30) on October 8 at socialcolander.com. 

ARIELSHEARER@GMAIL.COM:: @ARIELSHEARER

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