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Meet the restauranteur who wants to talk about mental health over dinner

TODAY logo TODAY 6/24/2021 Kait Hanson

You're invited to the hottest dinner party in town, but this isn't a meal like you've ever experienced before. In fact, it's not a meal at all; it's food for the soul.

For Jeremy Fall, food goes beyond the plate.

"My background is in food and I have always seen it as a conduit to conversation," the restaurateur and entrepreneur told TMRW, adding that his passion has always centered around creating the extra details within his restaurants — like how someone might cross their legs so a purse hook is in the proper location — that create the full experience. "I see it as the biggest cultural craft in the world. "

diagram: Logo for Dinner Party (Courtesy Jeremy Fall) © Courtesy Jeremy Fall Logo for Dinner Party (Courtesy Jeremy Fall)

Inspired by his love of food and conversation, Fall, 30, decided to launch "Dinner Party," a new podcast that delves into serious topics with candor, not clinical jargon.

"I was inspired by the four-hour meal with friends where you eat for the first two hours, and the rest of the night you’re just talking — you get to really know people," he said. "You develop inside jokes. When you look back on your fondest memories, you look back on those moments."

Fall hoped to re-create those deep emotional connections in a podcast, but it was his own mental health struggles which cemented the show's subject matter.

Fall, who was named to Forbes' 30 Under 30 list for Food & Drink in 2020, told TMRW he knew from a young age he was different.

"I felt like an outsider growing up. I wasn’t doing sports, I never did a sleepover," he explained, adding that at on one particular occasion he frantically called his mom from a friend's house. "I had, what I didn’t know at the time, was a panic attack. I realized later on, a lot of it stemmed from my mental health [and] having an anxiety disorder."

The first-generation American, whose parents hail from Tunisia and France, said it took him until age 28 to realize he needed to address his mental health.

Jeremy Fall sitting on a bed: Fall shared that his own struggles with mental health at a young age provided the impetus to create something better for generations to come. (Courtesy Benedicte Castillo) © Courtesy Benedicte Castillo Fall shared that his own struggles with mental health at a young age provided the impetus to create something better for generations to come. (Courtesy Benedicte Castillo)

"Growing up, talking about mental health was very taboo. It was something as man — you were allowed to be angry or normal. Emotions dictated sexuality in the eyes of people," he explained.

In episode one, debuting Thursday, Fall welcomed actor Lamorne Morris (who you may recognize as Winston Bishop from "New Girl") and the pair delve further into the topic. Morris said an episode of "Black Mirror" helped him recognize the disparity of roles for Black men.

"As Black men we try to showcase and tell the world, we go through every emotion just like everybody else," Morris said. "You have to be jacked or tall or extremely funny — that’s it. If you aren’t Eddie Murphy, if you aren’t Denzel, you ain’t it. So it’s really difficult to walk that path and follow in those footsteps. I think this generation of performers are kind of carving the way for the everyday man. The real sh-t that people go through. It’s really fun to see."

Throughout season one, "Dinner Party" discusses mental health topics — which range from imposter syndrome to suicide — alongside guests like Shawn Johnson East and Yung Pueblo.

"This podcast is something that I’m creating for generations to come," Fall said. "It’s relevant to a broad amount of people, but to me it’s like — how do we educate the kids after my generation to give them the tools to navigate mental health? It came too late for our generation. It’s important to me for people to understand that we need to do our due diligence and educate and be open."

"Dinner Party," produced by Fall's creative agency JFALL, is available for streaming on all platforms that support podcasts starting June 24 and new episodes will launch every Thursday. The first five episodes feature Lamorne Morris, Jinger Vuolo, Yung Pueblo, Shawn Johnson East and Andrew Shultz.

"I want people to realize that mental health does not have to be depressing," Fall said. "It doesn’t have to be sad."

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