By Emily Paster
It's a new year. What are your goals? Are you looking to belong to a community? To break out of a rut and embrace your creativity? For me, cooking is how I unleash my creativity. I experiment with new ingredients, attempt to master new techniques and play with new combinations of flavors. And the gratification is immediate. I spend an hour (or two) chopping and dicing, stirring and sauteing and at the end, there is a final product. And then I can feed it to my friends and family. For me, cooking is an endless source of joy and satisfaction even though it can be also be frustrating at times.
Through my love of food and cooking, I have found a delightful community in the form of the Chicago Food Swap. One of the things that I love about the Chicago Food Swap is that it breaks down so many of the barriers that separate us — barriers like age, race, class and geography — and brings together a diverse group of people who all share a common passion: food. And I never fail to be inspired by the creativity and skill of the other swappers.
The January Chicago Food Swap event was hosted by a very cool local events company, Mac & Cheese Productions, that shares an interest in building community, inspiring creativity and breaking down barriers.
If you are looking for an outlet for your creativity and to feel part of a community in 2014, I highly recommend that you check out Mac & Cheese Productions. M&C offers numerous opportunities to challenge yourself and feel part of a community in an fun environment where you feel comfortable, solo and with people you've just met. At the core of Mac & Cheese Productions is the belief that the segments which make up our lives – work, making friends, dating, self-development – shouldn't be sources of stress but sources of joy, and that it's a good thing to bring together people who share little in common save for the willingness to be open, proactive, and vulnerable.
Mac and Cheese Productions founder, Saya Hillman, started the company after getting laid off from her corporate job. She always had a gift for bringing people together and now that is what she does for a living. How fun is that? Mac & Cheese has many diverse offerings ranging from day-long retreats to rehearsals that last for months. What are some of these events? One is called Fear Experiment, during which strangers come together to learn a new-to-them art form — such as improv comedy, singing or dance — rehearse for three months, and then perform in front of an audience at the famed Park West.
For those not anxious to perform in front of an audience, Mac & Cheese Productions also offers day and weekend retreats — what Saya called "Summer Camp for Adults. These events are perfect for anyone who is feeling stuck, disconnected, uninspired or just in need of a change. Everyone comes solo, leaves their phones, tablets and laptops behind and spends a day or weekend filled with habit-, value-, and courage-development activities, in an environment where you feel at home with people you just met. Everything — food, lodging/venue, supplies, schedule — is taken care of. You just have to show up.
The next day camp will be held on February 22 at Mac & Cheese Productions and registration is open. The weekend retreats will happen in June 20-22 and July 25-27 and applications are being accepted now.
I really enjoyed meeting Saya and was impressed by her commitment to helping people enhance their lives through self-exploration and making authentic connections with others. Chicago is a better place for having Mac & Cheese Productions' unique events.