Wok+Wine: A Feast Of Inspiration

About an hour into the evening at the ADC’s Wok+Wine event, my hands were dripping to the elbows with shrimp legs and juices. Meeting people no longer involved a handshake — we were fist-bumping instead. And when you’re covered in shrimp juice, you’re not thinking about reaching into your pocket for business cards.

I was a little nervous going solo to Wok+Wine. But the whole point was to meet interesting people. And to see what this unusual event actually was like.

A well-dressed, young-ish, chatty professional crowd clustered around the illuminated bar, tipping back glasses of vino. The gallery in the Art Directors Club had become a cacophonous and welcoming social space for an intimate feast, with an unconventional ambience combining Fatboy beanbag chairs and a surreal, black-and-white night photography exhibit.

Jason Wisdom, the host of this particular event, presided over a long banquet table covered in banana leaves and topped with a steaming mound of firey shrimp – eyes, antennae, and shells included. He explained the original concept that launched Wok+Wine was to provide a social environment that departed from the typical, stale "transactional" nature of networking events. Wok+Wine is about "connecting you with the people you didn’t know you were looking for."

He continued with a quick demo in shrimp beheading: "Find the hook behind the shrimp’s head… position your thumb behind that hook… and pull backwards. You are a human guillotine. Then suck out the head… that’s the tastiest part."

When you are with 50 new people and sucking out shrimp heads, there are really no conventional boundaries restricting the conversation. We didn’t talk about the weather. We didn’t talk [much] about work. Instead, we talked about backpacking in Europe, our new nicknames, pet projects, the best cookies in Manhattan, and bungee jumping. And after three rounds of a saucy shrimp massacre soaked in sauvignon blanc, we were practically best friends.

Plus, eating with your bare hands from a collective pile of food has a generous effect of leveling the playing field. Casual conversation with a CEO or Creative Director flows as easily as wine.

Clearly Wok+Wine is not a "networking" event with stilted conversation. It is a traveling hotbed for new, authentic, meaningful interactions. The kind that spark real relationships and brilliant ideas.

Prior to the event, I read on the website: "We accept no responsibility for extraordinarily riveting conversations leading you to forget to eat/drink." I thought this statement was at best tongue-in-cheek, and at worst, narcissistic. But I realized the wicked truth in it as I became caught in a series of fantastic chats that delayed my return to the table abundant with shrimp and bread.

The beauty of Wok+Wine is its simplicity: 50 creative people, 50 lbs of jumbo prawns, and 50 bottles of wine. Everything else just happens organically. Its spontaneous and slightly experimental nature, and an element of the unknown, make the event exceptional… the kind of experience where you have quick, happy revelations, and only remember some of them the next day — in part due to wine — in part due to the open, free-form conversation.

A new friend asked me last night "What do you think of New York so far?" (as I am a recent transplant). I told her I think of New York as an everyday scavenger hunt, full of tips and treasures — a constant seeking and finding — of things to consume, entertain, be astonished by, learn from. The commonality amongst people who choose to move or stay here is this continuous celebration of what life offers. And then sharing these abundant ideas, treasures, and stories, with a massive number of random people squeezed into the urban cosmos.

The trick is finding new ways to engage with each other, inspire and motivate each other, to participate in the scavenger hunt collectively, face-to-face.

I visited the Art Directors Club in my first week in NY, to personally introduce myself, and learn about membership. I signed up that same week, and within two months I have new opportunities, and people in my corner.

Who’s in my corner? Designers, writers, creative directors, filmmakers, startup founders, CEOs… people who rally…. rally for a cause, for a big idea, for a party, and for each other!

We each have unique specialties and dreams, related and unrelated to what we do at our desks. We can talk about kerning and leading. Or we can taste wine together. Watch movies together. Go kayaking or cliff-diving together. Swing dance together. Sounds kind of romantic, right? The point is that these are ways we can connect on a human level, that can inform our professional pursuits, and inspire us to chase our true desires.

The day after the event, I woke up inspired. And hungover.

But… thanks to Wok+Wine, I am going kayaking off Manhattan next week with a new buddy.

Alison Colby is a freelance Creative Producer and ADC member who recently began volunteering her time at the ADC Global headquarters. Alison relocated to New York from Denver, where she was involved in the local chapter of the Art Directors Club.

Photography and artwork for ADC’s Wok+Wine event were provided by Cut Paper Artist and Night Photographer Matt Hill. Matt is embarking on a yearlong project to combine his passion for surreal cut paper and the dilation of time via long photographic exposures at night. The result is what is turning out to be a provocative and unique series of portraits of nudes clad only in paper fashions caught in time, arrested by flash yet surrounded and juxtaposed with movement. Constant change vs. intransigence. Moments that are sometimes hours long captured in a single frame. Improbable portraits. The series is titled, "Night Paper" and is envisioned to be a gallery show and high-end, limited-edition coffee table book. This is Matt’s personal project, and a dream four years in the making.