Kitchen Table Passport

Our goal is to spark interest and curiosity to learn more by providing some facts you probably didn’t know, and great photography to give a feel for the culture.

By Violet Kadzura

It is a fact that food is one of the key pillars of culture. Through it, people get to understand what influences a people and it gives us a literal taste of a country. Think about how the pizza is synonymous with Italy and how paella is something the Spanish are famous for. Going beyond what we eat to understand what other people eat is a powerful and necessary sharing of identity; and travel is the great facilitator of this. When we travel, what often sticks with us are the dishes we tasted because they educate us and culture us in ways history books and guided tours never will. We don’t always have to travel thousands of miles to get a taste of a different culture – every restaurant that offers foreign cuisine gives us a chance to bite into something different and learn about what appeals to the palettes of people in different geographic locations. Kitchen Table Passport is a curated monthly service that gives subscribers the chance to travel without leaving their homes. Users get the chance to taste the dishes of different cultures and also learn about them in a unique experiential way. We caught up with the co-founder of Kitchen Table Passport, Lisa Howe to hear more about her brilliant business and how they are culturing people, one box at a time.

How did the idea for KTP come about and what was the inspiration behind it?.

My business partner, Murray McKerlie, and I frequently have talked about business ideas in the past. We worked together years ago and remained friends. He had an idea for a curry of the month, and over the course of a few hours that idea evolved further with food not being the primary element (and not only curry), but rather the focus of the subscription box being learning about other cultures over a meal. We’ve been to 45 countries between us and have lived in multiple countries each (he’s from Scotland, lived in Germany briefly, and has lived in the US for 15 years, and I’m American and lived in France for a summer and in Singapore for 2 years), and are passionate about bringing cultural awareness to others who may not have had the opportunity to travel as much.

How do you ensure that each box speaks well for the culture it represents?

Each country we feature is one at least one of us has visited personally, so we bring first-hand experience to the creation of each box.

Your boxes aren’t just about food – Kitchen Table Passport offers a unique cultural experience with souvenirs, photographs and even music. This is an incredible feat, how does the KTP team achieve it?

It takes a lot of time and hard work! The Discovery Cards are the major part of the development of each box. We try to gather fun facts about another culture – not just what you might find in a few minutes of internet searching. Our goal is to spark interest and curiosity to learn more by providing some facts you probably didn’t know, and great photography to give a feel for the culture. Some of the photographs are our personal photos from travel!

The souvenirs are chosen to try to be fun and representative, and with a story behind why we selected them. For example, one of the February Spain box souvenirs is a Spanish fan, and we include information about how in prior times young women would use gestures with the fans to communicate with young men – there is a whole language to fans!

The recipe starting point is for representative dish, and then we adapt it first to ensure the required fresh ingredients will be easily available (and inexpensive) in a normal grocery store. Our target is < US$25 for serving of 4-6 people and no special trips needed – just shop at your normal grocery. We provide optional ingredients if people want (and have access to) a more authentic taste which might require specialty ingredients, or if want to tailor spice levels or such. We then also adapt the recipe as needed so that it is very easy-to-follow and doesn’t require any specialty cookware or expertise – there are no chefs needed to make a Kitchen Table Passport recipe!

What is it about different cultures that make them appeal to people in other, often far away parts of the world? How does food tie into this?

Many people have a natural curiosity about life in other countries! Whether people have had the opportunity to travel much or not, I think it is wonderful that so many of us want to learn more about other cultures – what is similar to our own, what is different, what would it be like to visit….there is a whole world out there!

One of the best ways to really bring another culture home – literally and figuratively – is to experience the smells and tastes. Kitchen Table Passport offers a multi-sensory experience of another culture – smell, taste, see, hear, touch – all right from your kitchen table! As soon as you open the box, you can smell the herbs and spices for your dish. And, with your friends or family, you can cook the meal and enjoy it together, while learning from the Discovery Cards.

What are your most popular boxes?

Each month we feature a different country. Currently, we offer one country each month (for example, the January 2015 box was South Africa, and the February 2015 box was Spain). We are considering in the future making past country boxes available for those who are interested in a specific country.

What is Kitchen Table Passport Night?

Kitchen Table Passport Night is like a new game night or supper club night! Get together once a month with your friends or family, and together prepare the meal, enjoy eating it, listen to the playlist in the background, use the Discovery Cards to chat together and learn more about another culture, and even explore the souvenirs.

Some people have Kitchen Table Passport Night as a “Ladies Night In” type of event, some have it with neighbors or friends, and others have it as a family get-together and another way to get kids talking over a meal rather than just staring at their cellphones. Once a month, get together with friends or family and enjoy your Kitchen Table Passport Night!

Which foods and items would be in your own Kitchen Table Passport box?

We have a great time selecting the countries to feature and creating each box! If I had to pick a favorite of the ones we’ve created so far, I think it would be the South Africa box. It is such a fascinating country with so much storied history, and such a variety of cultures even within the country – not to mention the sheer stunning beauty! I spent a few weeks there a few years ago, ranging from city and winelands to two different safari game reserves, and I think it might have been my favorite trip so far. Cape Town is probably my favorite city I’ve ever visited so far. Many of the photos on the South Africa Discovery Cards are from my trip! Murray also spent several weeks there a number of years back and loved his trip as well.

Which meals from other cultures are your favorites?

I don’t even know where to start! I am a foodie at heart, and think a great way to experience other cultures is through food – and I love trying new things!

Favorite dishes – such a range! I really miss chili crab and black pepper crab from Singapore – you just can’t get that here. I loved shashlik in Russia. There is no better sushi in the world than in the Tsujiki Fish Market in Tokyo.

If I were forced to choose favorite regional cuisine, it would probably be Southeast Asian – flavors from Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore…all different from each other, but all wonderful! I eat Vietnamese Pho on a regular basis in the US, though Austin (the city I live in) is definitely lacking in good Thai food.

On top of the box, you also use your platform to educate people about different countries and their cultures. In your opinion, what is the best tool for teaching people about global culture?

I think that igniting curiosity is the key. Just reading a textbook or doing an internet search can be good, but that often is focused on just learning specific facts. But if you can get people excited to learn more on their own – have the “I didn’t know that! How interesting! Now I want to learn more!” moment – then the information really resonates.

I also think the multi-sensory approach is a great way to experience global culture – not just reading or looking at pictures, but tasting, smelling, listening….it all adds to the learning and sparking curiosity!

My favorite comments from customers are when they tell us what they learned after Kitchen Table Passport Night – they were so interested in that country or an aspect of it that they went to look up more information, which they wouldn’t have done otherwise. Curiosity about other cultures is a fantastic thing that helps us all to grow and learn more!

From your experience, how can people who are passionate about culture turn this passion into successful businesses?

There is a large market of people who are interested in learning about other cultures both for adults and children, and there are so many different ways to approach this! I love hearing about companies who are bringing cultural understanding and knowledge to others in different ways. Find a space where you can bring something unique, test it to determine customer reaction and feedback and of course the business model/financials, and go for it!

What are your future aspirations for Kitchen Table Passport?

We are currently selling only in the US lower 48 states and the one subscription box each month. We’d like to soon offer more options (for example, the ability to buy more of the herb and spice mix later, or an extra set of souvenirs, or such) and potentially a choice of past boxes if someone is interested in a specific country. We’d also like to expand beyond the US.

Our feedback from our customers and reviewers has been overwhelmingly positive, so we’re looking forward to continuing to expand!