Jenny Dorsey fell in love with the food industry by accident. Before beginning an MBA program at Columbia University, Dorsey decided to take a “creative sabbatical” and enroll in culinary school. “The people there made me realize the life I wanted was very narrow. There were all kinds of people from all walks of life; it changed my values.”
Dorsey stayed at Columbia for a semester before deciding that she wanted to make food her full-time job. “I started to take all these unpaid internships,” she says. “I sold juice door-to-door, I worked in restaurants, I was a barista, I worked in food PR, I worked in food styling.”
Dorsey, however, still felt a need for a creative outlet. That’s when she and her husband started doing a pop-up dinner series in their house; she would cook dinner, he would make drinks, and they would invite their friends to eat, drink, and have conversations.
Though the dinners became increasingly popular, even among the press, something was missing. “What I really wanted was to engage deeply, to be vulnerable, to get down to the nitty gritty and talk about things people never talked about at dinner,” Dorsey says. Taking a half-year off, she planned how to turn the dinners into a force to drive change. This is how Studio ATAO was born.
Studio ATAO, which stands for All Together All at Once, is a nonprofit organization that puts on immersive events that bring together food, art, and social impact. The first series to debut from the studio is called Asian in America. The experience is a fusion of food, drink, virtual reality, and poetry that examines the Asian-American identity through prompts and engaging discussion.
Since the pandemic has made in-person events more difficult, Dorsey and Studio ATAO are focusing on the community engagement aspect of the company. This includes a book club, a movie club, and even toolkits for industry professionals exploring social issues like tokenism in food media.
When it becomes safe, Dorsey plans to host public and private salon-style gatherings where attendees can learn and engage around a variety of topics. “We want to help people implement social change and learn how to keep people accountable.”
Arielle Feger is content association for Specialty Food.
Photo credit: Hannah Burton and Bustle