Combining storytelling with a meal to create a cultural exchange in Detroit
Storyteller Cornetta Lane developed 'Dinner for 30' to bring together her community through food and fellowship
I sat in the kitchen chair, watching Grandma Laura pour a bunch of salt in a pot of water.
“Grandma, why you pour salt in the water?”
“Well, I’m cooking rice. I added salt to bring out the flavor.”
“Oh, how did you learn that?”
“It’s just something you learn along the way.”
I was 12 years old at the time. I didn’t know much about cooking. I barely knew anything about my grandmother. I only had the facts. Laura migrated to Detroit from Tennessee. She raised six children as a single parent. She was 5-foot-2 with a medium frame, wide smile, and a gold capped tooth.
I knew this much about her, but I didn’t know her favorite color, or her favorite childhood memory, or anything about her mother. It’s not because she wouldn’t share that information with me; it’s because I never asked.
In my senior year of college, I took an Oral Traditions class and was required to interview, transcribe, and write an analysis of the experience. In the middle of interviewing a young black woman about her life, I suddenly became ashamed. She knew her family’s history very well. While I learned about her history, I didn’t know my own.
That same day, I wrote down some questions for my grandmother. I decided to interview her, but I was too late. Laura suffered two strokes that affected her ability to speak. I never got a chance to hear her story. It is the single most thing I regret in life.
Collecting family stories and recipes are ways to preserve family history. In fact, it is partially the reason why I have developed a new storytelling initiative, Dinner for 30.
Dinner for 30 is a multi-sensory experience that encourages people to bridge cultural gaps through live storytelling and cooking.
Essentially, a cook will be invited to prepare a dish that is connected to a fond memory and tell a story about it. At the end of the story, the audience of 30 gets to taste the dish.
I will host and record five events and will design a Detroit story cookbook.
I had the opportunity to test out this idea with my peers at the National Arts Strategy Creative Communities Fellowship and received feedback that helped me fine-tune the proposed experience.
I am currently planning a final prototype of the dinner, and with new insights and a fantastic line-up of cooks, we will officially launch the Dinner for 30 series in February 2018.
In the meantime, our Kickstarter campaign will begin on Sept. 12. To learn more, and get a link Kickstarter page when it is live, please visit our website.
Pedal to Porch is a neighborhood bike ride in Detroit that includes stops along a route where residents use their front porch as a stage to tell their story. And, Dinner for 30 is a live storytelling and cooking event.
Both projects are reasons why Cornetta gets out of bed every morning.