On Saturday 14th of April, we went to Valthermond in Drenthe to spend an evening in the PeerGrouP's weekendrestaurant - an evening of surprises, culinary and otherwise.

Through the glass panes, we spot Henry J. Alles speaking into a microphone as we cross the parking lot – oh no, are we too late? But as we enter the weekendrestaurant set up by site-specific - or rather community-specific - theater group, the PeerGrouP, we see that Alles is merely welcoming and presenting all the arriving guests. We step into the friendly space which is filled with smiling faces, relaxed chatter and cheerful background music, the very catchy theme song for the project, Van Mond tot Mond. A former greenhouse sets the frame of this interim restaurant which can seat up to 50 guests, and most of the raw wooden tables are already filled. With means such as lightning and decorations, different districts in the dining area are defined – in the plant-section, branches of spruce form a ceiling and small squares of flowering soil adorn the tables, while other guests in the less fortuned peat-section are dining under low-hanging black umbrellas in the glare of fluorescent tubes.

For the two of us, a certain table has been reserved, which was a surprise – a table in the Green Room. And this is quite special. Our table for two is placed on a large green piece of cloth which both functions as a carpet underneath us and a backdrop to the right of us, and to the left of us is a video camera placed on a tripod - something quite intimidating for moderately camerashy people… However, with all things happening in the room, it is (sort of) easy to forget about the rolling camera. As the only guests we get to stay seated and have our food and drinks served by a girl dressed in a green suit, who will later ghostlike blend in with the background – whatever it may be. We feel quite fêted with our private staff and the attention we get from the others. Perhaps we are dining on the moon? Or in a tropical paradise?

In these weekendrestaurants, the PeerGrouP provides an opportunity for the local community to show its talents and skills. Alongside the seven-course dinner prepared of local ingredients by chef and food artist Elles Kiers, there is a another menu which gives the guests the choice of acts. The acts are written on blackboards, and with titles such as Paard, Mond and Soldaat it is hard to know what to expect, which makes for a lot of surprises. People in the various sections order acts, and while we eat, the programme unfolds around us. Many of the acts are musical, but there are also two local men sitting by one of the tables making baskets out of reed and two local women quilting. A soft-spoken lady sits down by our table and reads a little story to us, and a local painter is working on a landscape, which will later be sold to the highest bidder.

In the pauses between acts, Alles presents the food and the participants and tells stories about the area, delivering both historical and current perspectives. A very current topic in the province of Drenthe is the plans to build a wind park, which will consist of 70 windmills up to 200 meters high. Among local residents there is a growing opposition to these plans, as people fear that the windmills will cause noise pollution, disrupt the landscape and harm nature – mixed with a prevailing feeling of Westerners giving the “stupid farmers” a raw deal. The guests are given a chance to speak their mind about this heavy subject, and the PeerGrouP succeeds in creating a relaxed atmosphere of togetherness even in the midst of political conflict and, for some, economic hardship. However, Alles hints that he will try to step up the conflict in the evenings to come…

We ask our green girl if we in the Green Room can order an act too, and after a bit of discussion we are also allowed to have a look at the menu card. We decide to go for the act Sugar, a title that appeals to both of us. A cheerful gasp goes through the PeerGrouP; “They chose Sugar!” - “What, really?” - “They chose SUGAR??” - and a few moments later, music streams through the greenhouse. People who think of Drenthe as a dull province with wooden people wearing wooden clogs and living lives as monotonous as the flat peatlands around them would be in for a surprise at this moment.

Sugar is a firework of pink and purple feathers. A man bigger than my father and as bald as an egg. With fake eyelashes and earrings. I did not know either Sugar Lee Hooper or O, wat ben je mooi, but when this type of song starts playing, whether or not you know all the words or can really sing at all, you sing along like you own it. People in the restaurant are clapping and singing, especially during the chorus, and being rather proud that this is “our” act, I clap and sing along too.

These evenings with the PeerGrouP are evenings full of tributes to the area, its history and its inhabitants, as well as more than a little humour. And with space for refreshments - gastronomic and musical. Bon appétit, Drenthe!