When Tommy Klauber bought Pattigeorge’s and established the now-famous interactive dinners in 1997, he never knew what a hit he’d have on his hands. It’s a Longboat Key institution, really.
“Everybody always wanted to take cooking classes, but our kitchen is awfully small, so we were thinking of a way to accomplish that,” Klauber says. “The best parties are always in the kitchen, so we thought, ‘Why don’t we bring the kitchen out to the dining room?’”
The first of the interactive dinners — which include three-course meals, with wine pairings and instruction by Klauber — began with the tastes of Italy and have circled the world since. Chile, Argentina, Spain, France, Thailand, Russia — you name it — and Pattigeorge’s interactive-dinner customers have experienced it.
“We have done the world at this point,” Klauber says. “Our dinners have covered every continent except Antarctica — and, truthfully, we just haven’t been able to establish a cuisine there. We do forward-flavor foods. We are not afraid of seasoning and are not afraid to make authentic food. A lot of the cuisines call for spices. The best part is that spicy foods kick in endorphins — which are like the runner’s high — people get giddy and that kicks up the fun.”
Although Pattigeorge’s interactive dinners are all about fun, there are some hurdles to overcome. The biggest challenge for these popular dinners, which host anywhere from 100 to 200 people, is each recipe must be prepared in one pan. For this, Klauber looks to his own recipe collection, as well as his hundreds of cookbooks, and comes up a dish people can cook in 12 minutes and in one pan. Also, with that many industrial pans, flames and cooks in room, the temperature is sure to rise.
“It’s gets hot and people complain, but it’s always hot in the kitchen,” he says.
Each dinner is planned one at a time, and Klauber finds constant inspiration for the themes from Connoisseur Club trips all around the world. He tends to focus on places he’s traveled with the group or even recipes eaten on the excursions. Guests are able to reminisce about their own memorable trips through these ethnic meals.
Although the most popular dinners have featured India and Morocco, Klauber’s favorite is Provence, France.
“My most memorable one was when we did Provence, and Paul Bocuse was here — he’s the greatest living chef, the most famous chef in France. I got to have him and and his family cooking in my restaurant, which was a real honor.”
The most frequent word to come up in conversation about the interactive dinners is “fun.”
“People walk out saying it was the most fun they’ve ever had,” Klauber says. “This way, you get the interesting and fascinating with a pinch of laughter and a dash of fun. You are not just sitting there — people have become friends with the people they meet at these dinners. People’s personalities really get a chance to come out.”
Perfectly put by Longboat resident Chris McKee, who, along with husband, Jeff, has attended almost every dinner since the beginning: “Cooking at home is not one of my favorite things to do, but at PG’s, they always make it easy and a pleasure. All you have to do is throw the ingredients in the pan — you can’t mess it up.
Anytime when the recipe calls for great food and friendship, it’s sure to be a hit.”