“Hugo doesn’t really like to talk to crowds,” Sara Brito, director of community at The Kitchen said in a direct tone. “But we’d love to be involved with TEDxMileHigh.” How on Earth do you get someone who doesn’t want to talk to crowds to present to more than 1,500 people? TEDxMileHigh had asked if Hugo Matheson, the chef and co-founder of The Kitchen, would take part in our event at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. The Kitchen, a Boulder-based organization with a new location in Denver, is focused on the creation of community through food; simple, elegant restaurant spaces; and, increasingly, the Kitchen Community, connecting kids to food through school gardens. TEDxMileHigh curator Jeremy Duhon and I were stumped. But then we thought: “TED has a performance aspect to it. What if we demonstrated the creation of community and food instead of having Hugo or a panel talk about it?” The idea bloomed. We would invite some of TEDxMileHigh and the region’s leaders to join Chef Hugo to re-create The Kitchen Denver’s Community Hour (every day from 3-6 p.m. featuring food, wine and conversation). We’ll show community through our own community hour, taking place at the same time as The Kitchen’s. I had the advice I often give to speakers ringing in my ears: show, don’t tell. Perhaps a little risk would be rewarded. I’ve seen my share of power lunches. I was introduced to the idea in Washington, D.C. as a Senate staffer in the early 90s. Upscale joints like The Palm and Duke Ziebert’s were the favorites with the city’s then heavy hitters like Larry King, Sam Nunn and Les Aspin, while lesser-knowns crowded tables by the kitchen doors or bathrooms. After moving to Denver, Racine’s was one of the Democratic party hangouts. Now that I live in Boulder I don’t know where Denver’s ‘in’ political crowd lunches , but I figured Chef Hugo had seen more than his share of power-brokers dining in his restaurant, and had been drawn into a conversation or two with them in the meantime. It just made sense that our concept could work. To add some positive mystery and underscore the unorthodox nature of this piece, we would not let the audience in on the performance right away. The table would be set, guests seated, wine decanted, food served, (I wish you could have tasted the fennel-laced salami. Wow.) and the conversation underway as TEDxers made their way back into the theatre from the session break. And their microphones would be on. It was a wild idea, but Sara and Chef Hugo were open to the idea. So we got cracking on the guest list. Wanted: Good conversationalists. Bright personalities. Foodies. Mayor Michael Hancock seemed an obvious choice. He’s passionate about food and could hold a riveting conversation with a can of peas. Denver Chamber of Commerce’s Kelly Brough loves substantive conversation, but confessed she didn’t think she’d ever had a “power lunch” (I think she was pulling my leg). Professional cycling trainer, recent cookbook author and TEDxMileHigh favorite Allen Lim seemed like a natural choice, too. And we discovered during one of our speaker preparation calls with [email protected] speaker Bianca Griffith that, along with talking to strangers in far-off lands, she could definitely hold her own in a fun, fast-paced conversation and loves food. As long as it’s vegetarian. Emcee Jeremy Duhon would be seated at the table as well to help stoke the conversation if necessary. But we figured he would also have to let the crowd in on the plan at 4 p.m. after 15 to 20 minutes of conversation, when the “performance” would officially begin in line with a conventional TED performance. We vetted our lists, checked the dietary requirements, calculated table sizes, agonized over table-types and linen covers – raw wood, high tops, like The Kitchen; or a TED-Red Round? We were smart enough to let Chef Hugo and Sara take care of the food and wine. This piece scared me more than anything else the whole day. What if the Mayor spills wine? What if the crowd doesn’t get it? What if the conversation lags? What if the setup takes too long? How long will it take to clear? After the first session of the day ran without a hitch, I was calm on the stage right wing with my headset on, listening to the banter of the audio and technical teams when Chef Hugo’s performance was set to begin. The room was filling up quickly when the mics came on, so they were already competing with quite a bit of din in the room. “Can we get the levels up some?” I asked the audio team over the mic. “The lav mics are about as high as they can go,” came the reply. I panicked. “Really?!” “The lav mics are about as high as they can go, there’s no more gain before they start to feedback” came the reply as the telltale whine of feedback started to creep into my ears. I hustled into the main room and into the back of the Ellie. It sounded like a loud restaurant, and I could hear wisps of the stage conversation through the crowd’s conversations, but not enough to make out what was being said on stage. I looked at my watch: 3:52 p.m. I thought it might be ok – this is what it would be like if you walked into one of those D.C. restaurants and weren’t in the know. Cool. I had our technical director get a message to Jeremy – make sure you stand up and move to the side of the table to get the crowd’s attention. This will attract the room’s attention. Then let the audience in on what’s happening. At 3:58 p.m., something unexpected happened: an attentive TEDxer figured out the room was missing out on something. A whistle pierced the air. The crowd fell silent. Jeremy announced the table two minutes later, and the crowd was rewarded with anecdotes of community and food and the future of Denver. I would have not been so panicked at the beginning, I think, if the crowd had to compete just a little more volume from the table conversation from the very beginning. But so it goes when we take risks – it doesn’t really ever go exactly like we think it will.  But in the end, the food and wine was delicious; and the company, whom had never met each other (except for Kelly and the Mayor) was stimulating; and the conversation weaved from light to substantive, serious to funny. And the audience was in on a little over 13 minutes of the whole “performance.”