More than 20 years ago, best friends Jen Lindsey and Anne Boninsegna bonded over cooking together for their friends. Now, the pair own The Kitchen, a catering company and events venue offering one of Columbus’s most unique dining experiences. 

Jen and Anne’s friendship blossomed through their shared love of cooking, a passion they discovered while socializing with mutual friends over euchre, a popular Midwestern card game for the uninitiated. They soon realized they enjoyed talking to each other in the kitchen more than the game itself. 


Anne and Jen - Owners of The Kitchen

Anne Boninsegna and Jen Lindsey, owners of The Kitchen.


“We had this group of friends who all lived on the same street behind the Columbus Foundation off Broad Street,” Anne says. “It was like Melrose Place back in the day. We hung out all the time and had parties all the time, and when we’d get together, we were always the two who ended up making food for the parties and hanging out in the kitchen.”

Anne and Jen’s friendship grew so strong that Jen made the bold decision to leave her then-job to go on vacation with Anne. Upon their return, Jen joined Anne in working at Franklin Park Conservatory, a move that would prove to be a pivotal point in their journey. The conservatory not only deepened their friendship and working relationship but also equipped them with the necessary skills and experiences to run their own business, laying the foundation for The Kitchen. 


The Kitchen Group Event

Image source: Blackletter Branding & Design


The conservatory is no stranger to a plethora of events, so Anne and Jen got plenty of experience in planning and catering, often with Anne front-of-house and Jen back-of-house. (“I’m not always that person who should be out front. That was quickly discovered,” Jen says with a laugh.) This allowed the pair to hone complementary skill sets, which is a boon to their business today. 

However, there was one event at the conservatory that made all the difference and would shape the concept of The Kitchen. 

“While working there, this woman came in to do a live fire cooking camp, and we both just fell in love with the idea that you could bring people together for a few days and have them cook together, and despite walking in with what looked like nothing in common, they left hugging each other,” Anne says. “They bonded in ways that I’d never seen happen before.”


The Kitchen Group Dinner

Image source: Blackletter Branding & Design


They took away from the experience that cooking meals together can be a transformative force for connecting people, which was exactly what Anne and Jen were looking for at that point in their lives. 

“We were at points in our lives where we were no longer going out to bars and clubs, so our ability to connect with people was changing,” Anne says. “We thought if we could find a way to connect with people and share a moment, that would feel better.” 

So, in addition to the traditional catering and events people know and love, Anne and Jen were inspired to coin the term “participatory dining” and add that to their list of offerings. Unlike a cooking class where people come to learn a particular technique or skill, participatory dining involves Jen and Anne providing the ingredients and giving each person a task in cooking the meal. One person might chop vegetables while another boils noodles, for example, and by the time they’re finished, the group sits down to enjoy a lush dinner made by their hands. 


Wine Dinner at The Kitchen

Image source: Blackletter Branding & Design


“Sometimes people will call and say, ‘Do we have to make the food or do you make the food sometimes?’ We do make the food sometimes, but I consider calls like that a huge win because if you can get people to wrap their heads around something that they just do not understand— like, why would I come to you to cook my own food?—I think that’s pretty good stuff,” Anne says. “People come in as individuals or colleagues and leave as friends. It’s incredible, and we get to see it every night.”

Their participatory dining experiences have been a resounding success, which is due in no small part to Jen and Anne’s philosophy about food and their approach to meals. 

“​​I think one of the benefits of how we do things is that neither Anne nor I decided that we wanted to be chefs. You should definitely have food experience, so you know how to plate food and make it look pretty, but I think there’s something very approachable about sharing knowledge when you’re not cheffin’,” Jen says. “There’s this delineation between I’m the one who knows and you’re the one who doesn’t, and we both thought that kind of mentality was gross. So when someone would come and ask who the chef is here, we’d say, ‘You are.’ We’ll plate it up, and we’ll do the dishes, but you’re the chef.” 


The Kitchen - ASAE Next Gen


“It’s funny because when you come for a participatory dining event, the one thing we really don’t do is chef. We don’t do any cooking because it’s all done by the participants, so they should refer to us as friends rather than chefs,” Anne adds. 

While participatory dining experiences can be booked as private events, there are also public participatory dining experiences, which are even sometimes themed. Currently, The Kitchen has two: one inspired by Ina Garten, better known as the Barefoot Contessa and another based on the hit TV show The Bear. They’re quick to note that with The Bear-inspired event, unlike the show, there will be “a lot less yelling and a lot more fun.” 

The participatory dining experiences are fun and close to Anne and Jen’s hearts, but so are the weddings and wedding-adjacent events, like rehearsal dinners and showers, the pair host at The Kitchen—especially the queer weddings. From gatherings large and small, couples and their families have become friends with Anne and Jen to the point of becoming extended family themselves. 

“We have this belief that all the people, whether it’s a wedding or a shower or a participatory event or a milestone birthday, all those people are leaving behind these good vibes. The space has this incredible energy—you walk in the door, and you feel it. All the good vibes from every great event have been left to seep into the brick walls, and it feels good. I’m so grateful for that,” Anne says. 


The Kitchen Sign


Those good vibes extend even beyond The Kitchen space and into the city at large. 

“I think we’re so fortunate in Columbus. You’re allowed to be part of the fabric of being in the queer business community without necessarily having to call it out,” Anne says. “In my head, everything in Columbus is gay! We’re just so fortunate to be able to go to so many queer businesses, and not just that, but to have so many allies and safe spaces.” 

“I feel like the further you leave from Columbus, the more you realize Columbus is a gay unicorn. It never occurred to me that living in this city just how lucky I was to be seen and have spaces and take up space and just be myself. I can remember coming out at 18 years old and experiencing the vibrancy of the community. It was so nice to have so many options to go to,” Jen says. “It’s so lovely to know that anywhere I go in Columbus, I’m going to make a friend. And it’s such a great feeling to know that it’s never just during the month of June. We live pride daily with our wives and families and our community.”

True to their point about there being a plethora of queer-owned businesses in the city, when Anne and Jen aren’t using their skills to make their own meals, they enjoy dining out at other queer establishments like Barcelona, Slammer’s, Bake Me Happy, Preston’s, and Cafe Overlook. 

“We’ve talked to people who ask us how it is to be gay in Columbus, and we tell them it’s great. We’re like the third largest gay community in the U.S.,” Anne says. “People need to come to Columbus and check it out.”