Our first Silent Dinner in Paris was warmly hosted by Susan Westre and the Schultz family, and catered by the fabulous (and bare bottomed) Fabien Borgen from the raw organic restaurant 42 Degrees.
It was a feast for all the senses as the spring light fell late around us, switching to the twinkle of candles in this beautiful Parisian family home.
Our gracious and gregarious hostess, Susan Westre, leads you through the evening in her experiential account here:
Susan Westre – Silent Dinner Paris – May 24, 2019
Performance art and food. That is a new combination for me. So when I was asked to host a “silent dinner” at my Paris apartment, I was super intrigued. Abi, a performance artist I had known socially, introduced me to Honi Ryan, another artist whose organizes and curates these dinners around the world. After my first meeting with Honi, I knew I wanted to offer our apartment to host one of these dinners because of the sheer weirdness of the concept.
I was super curious who would come to an event like this. An unknown location with an unknown chef and menu with people you had never met before. The rules in the invitation stated that for the two hours of the meal service, there would be absolutely no talking, reading or writing and…no digital devices allowed. What – no mobile phones? No Instagram-able moments? Plus it was happening in a complete stranger’s apartment. Who pays for something where you have no idea what the food is going to be or who will be there?
It turns out that curious people do. The evening was full of surprises, and the weirdness of the situation was part of the fun.
I got to greet the people as they arrived with Honi the host, and both of us are huggers, so I followed her lead and hugged everyone who arrived. That is never done with strangers in France, so that alone was fun to see how people reacted. The reaction was surprised but always good. There were many more women than men at the event, and hugging was such a positive way to start the non-verbal interaction. The next surprise of the evening was that the gourmet food was 100% raw and 100% vegan, served by a chef who wasn’t wearing any pants. He was wearing a professional chef coat and apron, and written on each butt cheek was a word “CRU” “NU”, which means “RAW” “NAKED” in French. We started with champagne and an “Amuse Bouche” (small bite-sized appetizer to delight your mouth) in the living room, and then moved to the long table for 18 in the dining room. One thing that everyone did was make intense eye contact. With everyone – partly because we didn’t know what else to do, I think. Eventually sign language and laughter that bubbled up around the room, and as the courses were served, people became more and more animated. Maybe it was the wine, but I think it was this weird sense of connection with these people who dared to put themselves into a situation like this. Between the main course and dessert, I felt compelled to hug everyone again from behind, just because I was having such a good time and it was the best way I knew to express it. People changed chairs, people laughed more, and then before we knew it, 2.5 hours were up. People started pointing to their watches making hand motions to me with a real sense of urgency. Could we talk now?
Honi told me that she once had a dinner that continued for 4 hours in silence, so I didn’t want to be the one to break the silence, but I knew there were no rules, so when 3 people were consistently making dramatic sign language that they wanted to talk, I said, “We can talk now if we want to.” The room erupted into applause and a big cheer. These complete strangers who hadn’t said a word amongst themselves were so curious to learn about each other. For me, the silence increased my curiosity. After we broke the silence, I didn’t have enough time to talk with everyone as much as I wanted to. It was such a diverse group in age and backgrounds and nationalities. A Canadian man was celebrating his birthday that day and his girlfriend from Singapore had bought them tickets for the dinner. There was a very hip young lesbian couple, one an American screenwriter from LA and the other from Saudi Arabia. I’ve never met a couple like that before. In fact, there was another striking young Saudi Arabian woman who came alone who was an artist in residence in Paris. And there was a British woman there who worked at a Montessori who was also raised in Saudi Arabia. Three unrelated women who grew up in Saudi Arabia at this weird art/food event. I loved that I met these interesting people from that part of the world where I had no interaction in the past. With the exception of the birthday boy couple and the lesbian couple, everyone else came alone. That alone is rather brave for a social event. At one point, I realized how many more women than men there were around the table and I felt this really powerful feminine energy in the room the entire evening.
Honi had told me that each event she had done never had a script and she never knew what would happen at her silent dinners. That intrigued me and the evening didn’t fail to live up to her claim. Her calm demeanour and warmth set the tone for a truly unique and one-of-a-kind experience that I will cherish.