I'm standing in a Cambridge apartment, sampling nut butters with a man wearing rainbow socks. He has a PhD in computer science from MIT; I spend most of my time writing. But tonight we're both guest judges at Social Colander — a monthly dinner party and amateur cooking contest that allows hungry extroverts the chance to eat, and vote, like Food Network judges.
While snacking on the butters and toastini appetizers made by past cheftestants, I watch competitors meticulously plating our first course, "the Common Ground." Tonight's theme is interracial marriage, and three teams of amateur chefs have created fusion dishes uniting vastly different cultures and flavors.
To commence the feast, Social Colander cofounder Tiffany Chu strikes a giant triangle, inviting the 20 guest judges to find our tables using custom menus that double as maps.
At my first table — labeled with a turnip matching the one on my menu — I'm presented with a glass of deep-red beet soup, topped with a layer of bright-green spinach puree. There's a pyramid of creamy mango butter next to a hand-twisted breadstick "straight out of an American country kitchen," subtly infused with East Asian green tea.
As plates are cleared between courses, Social Colander's other founder, Mark Watabe, asks trivia questions and instructs each table's team to submit answers through the Social Colander app. He built the app, which we access by using our smartphones to scan QR codes on our menus.
"The physical experience is the focal point, but the digital really enhances it," says Chu. She met Watabe years ago at an MIT bake sale; they've been together ever since he sold her a loaf of zucchini bread. Both studied architecture at MIT and now work as designers — but it's a shared affinity for food, friends, and social experiments that inspired Social Colander.
"It's not just about food, it's not just about tech, but it's also about experimenting with new situations you put people in," Watabe says.