Tender Table

A storytelling series revolving around food and family.

For many of us, food is how we connect with our identity. It’s how we connect with our culture and share it with others. It also lends itself to the preservation of memory, and that’s what this platform is all about.

- Natassja Pal, co-organizer of Tender Table

Tender Table is a storytelling series featuring women, trans men, and non-binary people who are black, indigenous, or people of color. During events, three presenters share a story relating to food and family. Then, they serve a dish that relates to the story.

Stacey Tran created Tender Table in 2017. The team has since hosted events in Seattle, San Jose, and New York City. Tran is currently running the series in Rhode Island while Natassja Pal, Emmeline Eao, and Vy Pham organize events in Portland.

For Design Week Portland, Tender Table is putting on a special event by inviting Portland chefs who are positively impacting the community through their food: Kusuma Rao of Ruchikala, Arlyn Frank of Platano Rising, and Dashia Fontleroy of Blackstreet Bakery.

We spoke with Natassja Pal, co-organizer of Tender Table and studio coordinator at Nelson Cash, to dig deeper into the platform’s uniqueness, its importance to the community, and what designers can gain by attending.

What drew you to Tender Table?

Most storytelling events may have a person of color speaking, but as an attendee, you’re alone in the crowd. My first event with Tender Table was really healing and validating—I saw and heard myself without having to say anything. I also found the stories so heartfelt and genuine, from people who maybe weren’t used to having a voice. I’ve been involved ever since.

Whats Tender Tables role in the community?

Most people want to be seen and heard. They want to know who they are and where they come from. This allows a community to come together when they aren’t used to having that type of space.

Also, a lot of people make excuses in Portland that the city’s so white, and that’s why we don’t have creatives of color. It’s an excuse we make because we’ve failed to create space for people of color. Tender Table provides us with one of those spaces.

Even though the events feature women, trans men, and people of color, do you still encourage other groups to attend?

Absolutely! We want everyone to attend. The events can be so educational, but it’s not just about that—it’s about learning more about people in your community and, most importantly, getting to reflect on your own identity.

Regardless of who you are, the experience is so special. You get to sit there and listen to someone share this genuine, heartfelt story—a piece of their family or ancestor’s history—while connecting it to a certain dish. Then, you get the privilege of experiencing the dish as a first-hand gift. I find it fascinating and incredible.

What would you say designers and creatives could gain from this event?

Any time a designer can learn about something outside themselves is super critical. Many times, their work affects a large group of people, but designers only have their one lived experience. Here, they can be challenged to think beyond themselves and to gain other perspectives that can inform their work. The wider your perspective, the better you can design.