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Caracotsios: Dinner with 12 Strangers a must-do

Julian Caracotsios, Assistant Opinion Editor

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Over the years, I’ve amassed a large college bucket list. Those of you who are seniors know exactly what I am talking about — as for the rest of you, you will soon enough. Given that the most commonly uttered phrase on campus is something like “OMG I’m soooo busy #NorthwesternProblems,” it is difficult to not only go to every event you want but also to even know about all of them. Ergo, yours truly thought it wise to inform you of one opportunity you absolutely should not miss.

Dinner with 12 Strangers is one of Northwestern’s most popular traditions. The name is rather self-explanatory: A group of students are hosted for dinner by several NU alumni, ostensibly forming a group of 12 people total, though I experienced a larger crowd. For those of you who aren’t paying attention, let me point out that this means you get free food. Yes, my fellow college students, free food, and we’re talking fancy places like Farmhouse and Found that you only go to when you can weasel an expensive meal out of mommy and daddy’s wallet when they come to visit you. Or, just as good, a fantastic dinner at the home of an NU alumnus, which — given the innumerable consultants, doctors and other people with high-to-do, fancy titles that this university casually produces — is an experience not to be missed.

I actually got rather lucky. Due to some extra openings, I was able to attend two different dinners, hosted by different alumni. On Saturday, I was hosted at the home of an NU alumna in Winnetka. On Sunday, I was at Farmhouse, right downtown, hosted by two Kellogg graduates.

Both dinners were interesting in different ways. Carol Genis, my host in Winnetka, had us for dinner in her home. It was comforting, relaxed and felt like I was back home at a Christmas party with old family friends — except that I wasn’t. I was with people I had never seen or even heard of before. And I came away with ideas and knowledge that wouldn’t have crossed my mind in the past, including — among other things — just what exactly people in the School of Communication actually do, which, for a math major such as myself, had theretofore been a mysterious black hole in some far-flung corner of the universe.

Farmhouse, in some ways, was the opposite. It was upbeat, energetic and made me feel excited to explore a busy world. Our hosts — Bronwyn and Peter Poole — just so happened to be friends with the owners of Farmhouse itself — Molly McCombe and TJ Callahan so I had the pleasure of listening in on a lively conversation about what it takes to make it in the restaurant business. Restaurateurs didn’t seem as alien to me as theatre majors, but by the time I left, I realized that I know as little about what was going on behind the scenes of a restaurant as I do about Shakespeare. For someone who SparkNoted every single unendurable play that he was cruelly subjected to the torture of reading, that’s effectively nothing.

I kid. Though I hated Shakespeare in high school, being able to understand things, Hamlet included, outside of my comfortable world of integrals and power series, is the point of that bucket list I mentioned in the beginning. And it’s exactly why I signed up for Dinner with 12 Strangers. It’s like playing the lottery, except you don’t have to pay and the worst you get is some good eatin’. If you love to try new things, this is for you. If you don’t, this is still for you, because you need to get out and try new things.

Unfortunately, though, Dinner with 12 Strangers only happens once a year, so those of you who missed it will have to wait until next year. For all you freshmen, sophomores and juniors out there, make sure you check your email when next Fall Quarter rolls around. For all you seniors, well, I guess it’s just tough luck. But, hey, maybe one day you’ll be the person hosting one. I know that if, one day, I somehow manage to get a job and not live under a box, I certainly will.

Julian Caracotsios is a Weinberg senior. He can be reached at If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to