Guess who’s coming to dinner?

Vancouver hobby chefs prove nothing beats home cooking.

Credit: Cyndi Hunter and Krista Eide

Cyndi Hunter and Krista Eide

Vancouver hobby chefs prove nothing beats home cooking in the Social Bites dinner excursion

Kim Lai has only been cooking for about two years, but that didn’t stop her and friend Trudy Tran from preparing and serving a two-course Asian-inspired dinner for eight strangers in her Main Street apartment one evening this October.

And as one of those strangers, I can testify that her sesame-dressed green salad followed by fresh crab on a spicy, creamy bed of e-fu noodles was delicious.

After whetting our appetites at Lai’s, my dining partner and I headed north on Main to Gianni D’Andrea’s place, where he and cooking partner Mark Busse, of food-blog collective, went beyond their promised zucchini parmigiana di Nonna (lovely) to include four other small courses—including a morsel of tender horsemeat, and blue-cheese-stuffed date with port—all using Southern Italian flavours and top ingredients.

Social Bites Vancouver

The next Social Bites dinner excursion will take place January 23, 2010 in Kitsilano, and another will be held in Gastown in March.

Visit for information on purchasing tickets, or becoming a hobby chef. Twitter / Facebook

The best part, besides eating, was that the chefs were there to answer our questions—everything from where to buy the best olive oil, to the mystery ingredient in the parmigiana (mint).


Social Bites dinner excursion

This table-hopping indulgence was part of Social Bites’ dinner excursion, the brainchild of Annika Reinhardt, who was inspired by the neighbourhood dinner parties she remembered as a child in Germany.

“I thought, ‘What if a whole bunch of people could cook, and a whole bunch of other people could eat?’” says Reinhardt, a long-time foodie.

Social Bites Vancouver

Diners cheers to hobby chef Gianni

D’Andrea’s stuffed dates with port,

which helped him nab the hobby

chef award.

Hence, she created a recurring event where strangers meet and eat in other strangers’ homes in a particular Vancouver neighbourhood (the most recent being Main Street).

The event is part musical chairs, part competition. Pairs of diners select two of four menus in advance. Each couple eats with another couple at the first hobby chef’s home, and then moves on to meet new diners at the second home.

After, guests fill out ballots rating the food and their experiences, and everyone meets up at a final location, where the best chef is awarded.


New food, new people, new places

In addition to sampling fantastic food, the excursion is also a chance for people of all backgrounds and ages to come together to break bread.


Hobby chef Kim Lai served up a recent

creation, “cream crustacean,” an

Asian-inspired pasta made with e-fu

noodles and crab.

“I’ve had couples married for 25 years eat with 21-year-olds, and everyone had a great time. Food connects them,” says Reinhardt.

Most hobby chefs have culinary talent, but, as the name implies, none are professionals. Anyone who wishes to be a hobby chef is welcome to apply, and those who cook get to eat gratis at the next event.

Reinhardt says another big part of the event is the opportunity to explore the neighbourhood, and she allows enough time between courses for diners to walk between destinations.

Indeed, after stuffing ourselves at D’Andrea’s, we moseyed up to Forsya Boutique and Gallery to join all the eaters and cooks, and to enjoy chocolates by Eagranie Yuh of The Well-Tempered Chocolatier. D’Andrea and Busse took the prize, but it was a close competition between all the chefs, including Jackie Connelly and Nivida Nuraney, who prepared three skewer dishes, plus cheesecake lollipops, and Maarten Haubrich and Roya Ravanbakhsh, who served Indian-style sautéed arugula, spinach and paneer, followed by chicken curry.

The entire evening was one of the most tasty and surprising experiences I’ve had in a long time. It’s certainly true: Nothing beats home cooking.