Often guests to dinner parties ask if they can bring something, like wine or dessert, but over the weekend I was told by the host to show up with an item that can’t be purchased at a store: ideas.

 

An evite arrived in my inbox the day of the dinner with specific instructions to come up with responses to questions about Aspen’s future: What do you love about Aspen? What wouldn’t you change? What does Aspen look like without retail? Given that it was a soft opening to Maker + Place, a creative new collaborative workspace connecting artists with their clients on Hyman Avenue, these probes made sense.

 

“A dinner party will save your life,” says Dr. Jerome Burt, a Nashville, Tenn.-based psychologist who recently gave a Ted talk about his theory, and the man who was our host for this soiree. He says that breaking bread can help people feel connected; we hear a lot about the importance of family dinners for children’s success but let that fall away as we become adults.

 

Burt argues that meaningful conversations can occur in other environments, like hiking or skiing, but that purposefully driven dialogue over a meal creates a different experience — purposefully driven being the key. Too often people show up to dinner parties to chatter rather than actually speak, and he suggests a few tips so that people leave feeling fulfilled.

 

The first is to never host empty-handed, meaning have a set of questions prepared ahead of time. It can feel awkward at first, but as people warm up to the experience, they’ll be grateful. Which segues to rule No. 2: Drop your guard and listen with an open heart. This is where barriers are broken down and true connections are made. For the third tip, he offers that people should push the envelope without going too far. That basically means, don’t be that guy or girl. And finally, whenever you’re invited to a dinner, go! If you’re not getting invited, think about hosting your own.

 

For our dinner, the 12 of us gathered around an old table in the new Maker + Place to celebrate Michaela Carpenter-Olson’s debut in the town’s retail scene. She grew up in Aspen before globe-trotting and formalizing the concept for the store, which is a curated collection of jewelry, homewares and artworks made by artisans from around the world. Some of those “makers” will have residencies in the studio, offering a unique direct-to-consumer experience for shoppers. (Aspen Entrepreneurs will operate a co-op working space out of the back.) It’s an incredible David-and-Goliath example of an Aspenite returning home to box out big multinational stores with a creative approach to retail.

 

The more we talked about it over the unbelievable and memorable dinner made by chef Barclay Dodge – who also grew up here and returned to open Bosq – the more people felt inspired, grateful and heard. The commonality between everyone was a shared appreciation for the community. As people passed by outside they peered in the giant picture windows with curiosity, and, hopefully, it sparked a few of them to throw their own dinner party.  

 

May this column also inspire breaking bread with friends, new and old. But as a host be prepared—with questions.

 

Christine Benedetti writes about food here every other week. Mostly the plant kind. She’s editor-in-chief of Aspen magazine, but you can email her at christine@aspendailynews.com