By Annette Hinkle
Sharing a meal with a group of friends is perhaps one of life’s simplest pleasures and the ultimate way to express an appreciation for good food and wine.
But communal dining is also about good company.
It’s a concept artist Almond Zigmund knows well. Once the summer season is behind us, she gets down to business by focusing on what it means to enjoy great food in the company of great (and creative) people.
Zigmund is the creator (or curator if you will) of the Artists and Writers Night dinner series which is offered on select Wednesdays in the quieter months at Almond in Bridgehampton, the restaurant which was named for Zigmund by her husband, chef Jason Weiner.
Zigmund notes the goal of the series — which kicked off a year ago — is to bring members of the creative community and residents together for an evening of food (cooked by Weiner and served family style), art and culture.
But this is not an evening designed around self-promotion in which authors sign copies of their latest book or artists speak on hidden meaning in a new series of paintings. Rather the idea interaction — creative people introduce a theme or presentation of their choosing for the evening and diners participate in the discussion.
For example, the dinner series kicked off with Water Mill playwright Jon Robin Baitz (author of “Other Desert Cities”) who read, not from his own work, but from Melville’s epic novel “Moby Dick.”
That’s exactly the way Zigmund wants it. She notes the series was inspired by the desire of many people out here — to connect with one another in the off season.
“It was born out of a conversation I think a lot of people have,” explains Zigmund. “The winters are long, the community is spread out and we need stimulation and togetherness.”
In fact, Zigmund’s conversation was with Shelter Island artist Ned Smyth who told her about FOOD, a Soho restaurant on Prince Street in the 1970s which was founded by artists in the neighborhood.
“It was sort of like a cooperative restaurant and was born out of necessity,” explains Zigmund. “There were a lot of artists in Soho at that time, but not a lot of restaurants. At FOOD, artists would run the kitchen for the day and there would be a collaborative part, like a performance.”
“Ned worked there for a while,” she adds. “So he was saying you guys should do something like that.”
Zigmund thought it was a great idea and made it happen. Since Baitz kicked off the series last fall, she has invited in poets, playwrights, writers and artists to share a passion and a meal.
“The community table idea is popping up all over,” she says. “It’s a great way to spend an evening, come together over food to talk about art, experience art or verse. It’s a really nice thing.”
“It’s also opened up a whole new world to me,” adds Zigmund. “I have my own community of artists, but this has expanded it. I’ve been able to invite people in who I didn’t know and with each person that hosts, we get to meet their whole community.”
On Wednesday, October 23, art curator Janet Goleas will be the host of the next Artists and Writers Night and, going full circle so to speak, she will offer a staged reading of some of the lighter portions of “Moby Dick.”
Goleas admits the performance aspect is a little out of her comfort zone, but it ties in nicely to her latest art project — “The Moby Project,” a contemporary art installation Goleas organized recently at Mulford Farm in East Hampton while Scott Bluedorn did a similar installment at his Neoteric Gallery in Amagansett. The project involved various artists offering work reflecting aspects of Melville’s novel.
“It’s not literal — there are some very broad themes in ‘Moby Dick’ that I ask people to consider — whiteness, rage, turmoil, invisibility, brotherhood,” explains Goleas. “I thought if I could link literature to contemporary art it enriches everybody’s life.”
While the ultimate goal is to expand “The Moby Project” all over the East End, at this point, Goleas is largely a one-woman show and she notes the full vision for the art project will have to wait a while longer. But given this area’s connection to whaling — especially Sag Harbor — Goleas feels using “Moby Dick” as a jumping off point for artistic expression is a way to build community, just like Zigmund’s dinner series.
For Zigmund, allowing hosts like Goleas to use their own passion to devise the focus of the evening is what keeps the series organic, enlightening and all about community.
“Unless I’m asked my opinion, it’s not something that I get involved with,” says Zigmund. “The whole idea is to have people really take over the proceedings. Jason comes up with a menu that’s family style and asks the artist if they want any input into what they eat and tie that into the theme of the night.”
“It’s an understood thing with people who have come together in this shared experience,” she adds. “It’s very much like a dinner party. It’s been great.”
Artists and Writers Night with Janet Goleas is Wednesday, October 23 at 7 p.m. at Almond Restaurant, 1 Ocean Road, Bridgehampton. The cost is $40 for a three course family style dinner and a glass of wine or beer. Reservations are required by calling 537-5665.