My husband and I were invited to experience an unusual food event the other night at 1418 Abbott Kinney called Bare Naked Bliss.

The lovely center that hosted it, Ascended Living, is on the second floor of a building that promotes itself as an urban oasis. We “ascended” the stairs and were greeted by the hostess, Suzanne Toro, a 30-something woman, very warm and friendly who proceeded to invite us to begin our Bare Naked Bliss experience. We had no idea what to expect as the invitation read as follows:

“Toro will guide guests through a two-hour dinner with wine, appetizers, main courses and dessert and only uses foods that stimulate the senses and help arouse different elements of the body. The menu begins with empanadas filled with mushrooms and seafood, dripped in a savory dipping sauce. The mushroom empanadas will ground the evening and feed everyone with an aphrodisiac that will provoke a creative and an interactive experience. From there, Toro will guide people through a feast of foods which both inspire and awaken the mind and end the night with delectable Bare Naked Bliss Chocolate Balls to end on a sweet note.”

After an introduction like this I expected to have a sit down dinner shared with others led by a dynamic woman who would educate us in how her particular philosophy is unique.

The reality went a bit differently. There were three small rooms and about 15 people showed up. Suzanne led us into the main room which had a tiny kitchen where two Scandinavian young chefs were preparing our “meal.” Everyone was handed a card and on it was the experience you were to begin and a description of the food. The fist card read: “Empanadas mushroom” and then proceeded to explain the earthy energy of the mushroom and the emotional reaction you were to feel (her description is that they are an aphrodisiac). Then she suggests a conversation that is to be ignited by this course. In this case it was, “Who do you need to make peace with?” Then you are told to sit down with the other diners and start talking. The idea is a bit odd and could work but I am afraid the way it was executed on this particular evening it didn’t.

First of all you are to eat with your hands, which for some may be lovely, but a bit awkward for others, especially now with the huge amount of press given to the outbreak of swine flu and everyone obsessed with anti-bacterial sprays. I think you get my drift here. I just shook hands with a whole bunch of new people and am now expected to eat with those same hands? I don’t think so.

That is the first odd part. Then you sit down with people you just met and maybe are not actually choosing to sit with and are told to bare your soul and reveal intimate thoughts that are inspired by the food we are eating.

Suzanne was touted as a woman who has “traveled the country speaking to men and women about finding a deeper connection, overcoming tragedy and finding a way to live an authentic and inspired life,” but the problem was all we experienced of her was a lovely, friendly person who was obviously passionate about travel and professed to enjoy cooking and food, yet she wasn’t cooking at the event. She passed us our plates and made sure we had enough to drink; in other words a perfectly lovely hostess. But her magical powers to bring people together to discuss deep emotional issues was not being revealed.

We proceeded through the courses realizing that this was to be a vegan meal not a “two-hour dinner with appetizers, main courses and dessert.” What we actually had were two appetizers, a mushroom empanada and a lettuce wrap sparsely filled with a few vegetables; one entrée, a veggie skewer (this was supposed to have tempeh but somehow that was not communicated to the chef); and a fruit dessert, skewered sticky rice balls with mango.

The best part of the meal was an elixir that was served that was not part of Suzanne’s deal but made by the Ascended Living people — an herbal, tart drink that had you feeling energized and alive.

All in all we both agreed that the evening was quite entertaining; the people were earnest, kind and loving and the idea, although hard to grasp, was interesting enough to check out. But the execution, I have to say, was a failure. Yes, we ate with our hands with a couple of perfectly friendly people and revealed a tidbit of ourselves but what no one could tell me is why I would need an outside person to teach me how to have an emotional conversation around the dinner table? Suzanne didn’t seem to know how to share this either and didn’t seize the day (or evening as it were) and show us her magic even though we were there for that reason.

The food was the forgettable part of the evening; quite unremarkable and the omission of the tempeh entrée was, for me, a glaring mistake.

I will leave you with this: Suzanne Toro may be gifted or a medium of sorts or even a saint (she contributes to homeless shelters and charities for children) but at this event titled Bare Naked Bliss, we didn’t see any of this. We ate vegan food with a bunch of strangers and enjoyed meeting a group of new-age people who were very kind and that is about as blissful as it got.

To learn more about Suzanne Toro’s Bliss dinners or to purchase her book you can find her at

Amanda Cushman is a culinary educator who has cooked professionally for 25 years. She teaches privately for groups of two to 20 students. She has developed hundreds of recipes for cookbooks as well as food magazines and Web sites. She can be reached

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