It was a balmy recent night when a group of curious strangers came for dinner at the Miami home of Ellen Kanner and Benjamin Bohlmann.
Kanner, the Miami Herald’s Edgy Veggie columnist and a vegan since age 13, and husband Bohlmann, an accountant and fair-weather vegan, hosted the meal for EatWith. The San Francisco-based company connects food lovers and creative amateur chefs through pop-up dinners at homes in more than 160 cities (think Airbnb for foodies).
Kanner prepared EatWith’s first Miami meal last year and has opened her doors to two more groups since then.
On this night, Kanner’s three-course meal consisted of ingredients grown in her backyard garden and cooked in her kitchen. Menus printed on stationery were placed atop elegant table settings in the dining room, where guests sat after Bohlmann poured small-batch gins and perfectly chilled wines from his bar. Kanner had put out a colorful spread of canapés to go with the aperitifs.
While EatWith often attracts travelers who are visiting a city for a short time and want to experience an authentic, home-cooked meal, Kanner’s recent group included a middle-age couple from Miami Shores, a younger couple from Kendall and an Israeli who recently moved to Miami, among a few others.
You could be licking doughnuts with Ariana Grande, but you’re here eating vegetables instead.
Ellen Kanner, EatWith host
For most, this dinner was an introduction to vegan dining. The eaters carefully inspected Kanner’s carrot “lox” on rye toasts, trying to figure out how she made the bite-size app taste just like the briny salmon served on a bagel with cream cheese at a Jewish deli.
Pleasantly surprised, the guests tasted their way through this new experience with Kanner’s guidance. She received good feedback about her wild mushroom cake with tender salad greens, oranges, roasted fennel and toasted almonds with sherry-thyme vinaigrette.
“You could be licking doughnuts with Ariana Grande right now, but I’m glad you’re here eating vegetables instead,” Kanner joked as she served the first course, her pop-culture reference putting everyone at ease.
Kanner is one of only a few EatWith host chefs in Miami, but the company says it is looking to expand its presence here. Prospective hosts are vetted for their creativity, enthusiasm for food and ability to interact with guests without having to manufacture authenticity.
Roving social dining groups like EatWith are becoming increasingly popular in Miami.
Saffron Supper Club brings a taste of Middle Eastern food and culture to Miami with its series of one-off collaboration meals at restaurants.
Local organizers Sara Liss and Maude Eaton work with chefs to create Persian-inspired menus for their events, which lead to unique results. A recent Saffron Supper Club at Italian restaurant Bocce in midtown Miami produced a pizza topped with eggplant, pine nuts and raisins.
“Saffron gives chefs a chance to flex their creative muscles and gives diners a unique opportunity to explore a different cuisine in a casual, communal and convivial setting,” Liss said.
A members-only group called Dinner Lab gives diners the opportunity to experience modernist, creative tasting menus by up-and-coming local chefs at remote and unexpected venues (the locations are disclosed the day of the events).
The dinners, which started in Miami last year, included one this month that featured the chef of a high-end Miami Mexican restaurant cooking Asian-inspired dishes paired with Bombay Sapphire cocktails. Chef Juan Carlos Suarez created two pre-dinner gin drinks as part of a new partnership with Bombay Sapphire.
In the case of EatWith, which bills its dinner experiences as the original form of social networking, Kanner’s latest guests struck up easy conversation, mostly about vegan-friendly food and ethical eating.
As an alternative to a traditional restaurant meal, sharing a dinner with strangers in someone’s home brings new conversation and voices to the table. For Kanner, it’s her way of bringing people together in an increasingly fragmented world.
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Miami home cooks open their doors to visiting diners. Prices vary depending on host and meal but tend to be about $60 a person. eatwith.com.
Saffron Supper Club
Miami restaurant chefs cook Persian-inspired meals with local curators. Saffron is hosting a dinner Oct. 4 at Mandolin Beach at Soho Beach House, 4385 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; $60. facebook.com/SaffronSupperClub.
Up-and-coming chefs cook creative meals at secret locations (revealed the day of the event). Prices are $70-$75, with an additional membership fee. The next event is Oct. 17 with chef Cleophus Hethington. dinnerlab.com.