"But all the things you try to hide, will be revealed on the other side…"

by Katie Pizzuto on June 15, 2009

in Dining

Things that are NOT usually found at the top of my “To Do” list:

1. Dining with a Bunch of Strangers – Cruise ships, hibachi restaurants and eateries with “communal” tables are great for those who love to hear about some poor slob’s amazing grandchildren, leeching ex-wife or recent trip to Aruba, but I tend to reserve bragging and griping rights for those who I actually…ya know…KNOW.

2. Letting a Stranger Choose My Meal – I’m not talking about a tasting menu at the French Laundry, mind you. I mean letting some weird, maybe/maybe not qualified “chef” sort of person I’ve never met before dictate what food I stick in my mouth, especially when I haven’t inspected their hygiene, their catering license or their Board of Health inspection.

3. Having Strangers Over for Dinner – Are you NUTS? What if they steal my private collection of Rolling Stone magazines, or use my toothbrush, or worse still, what if they smell?

4. Sky Diving – this has nothing to do with the previous three items, but…I’m just sayin’.

278719404_64915246e4Despite the freakish paranoia, I’ve always been lured in by the idea of underground dining. The thought of someone out there being so passionate about food that they wanna cook for a bunch of strangers and eat in an abandoned warehouse, an open field or a chic townhouse is intriguing. Throw in the fact that it’s not exactly illegal, but not exactly legit, and that draws in my attention even more. It’s become a global sensation that’s not exactly so “underground” anymore, but the rogue cooks who are taking Gonzo Gastronomy to heart are making me rethink my list—hypocrite that I am.

Some of these rogue cooks are former professional chefs that got fed up with the shackles put on them by restaurants who care more about the bank account than creative cooking. Some of them are aspiring chefs who want an outlet for their talent while they spend years working their way up the line in a restaurant kitchen. And others are accountants, teachers and advertising executives who love to kick a little ass in the kitchen, and wanna share their food with a dozen or so strangers—aka, passionate foodie whackos. I say that with envy.

A few weeks before most of these secret suppers, those running the show send out an email to their fan base, announcing the upcoming date and any other info they deem fit, but seldom does it include the menu, and often doesn’t include the location, either. Reservations usually fill up fast despite the secrecy. Some will include wine pairings, while others are BYO, which must be like playing Pin The Tail on the Wino because you have no idea what food you’ll be pairing with. And if you’re talking big cities like Manhattan, some have secret entry passwords, $100 price tags, and dinners that start at 8PM and often see the last course being served at 1:30AM. For those, don’t bother to send an email requesting “dinner reservation for two” as that’s surely the one that will get relegated to the junk bin. Your best bet? A wildly creative email with a catchy header, like, “Willing To Bring Free Live Entertainment: Buxom Babes that Feed You Chocolate Bon Bons.”

What kind of stuff are they cranking out at these places? Truffle-Butter Scalloped Potatoes, Date-Stuffed Hanger Steak, Sweetbreads with Herb Gnocchi and Sage Cream Sauce, Black Mission Fig Frangipane Tart with Buttermilk Ice Cream, and possibly the ultimate indulgence: Bacon-Wrapped Bacon (pork belly simmered in Asian spices and then wrapped in bacon and baked).  Some are as simple as an heirloom tomato salad, but when those tomatoes were picked just to the left of the field where you’re dining, it’s pretty fucking cool and pretty fucking delicious, all at once.

Most of these places DON’T turn a profit, either—clue number 2 that they belong in the passionate foodie whacko category, which as I said, I’m envious of. They do it for the bump-and-grind sensation, the fever-pitch adrenaline rush, that only cooking for a crowd can bring you. They do it because the day-to-day bullshit of running a legitimate eating establishment is a song they can’t dance to. They say, “Give me a few bucks to cover expenses and I’ll serve you some seriously good food. And if you feel like lingering and having a few shots with me after the kitchen has had its way with me, well then let’s throw on some Bob Marley and blow the dust off the Jack Daniels bottle.”

Some not-so-unknown joints*:
• Cook With James  (San Francisco Area, CA) – site
• Caché (Seattle Area, WA) – site
• Whisk & Ladle (Brooklyn, NY) – site
• Hush (Washington DC) – Email only: hush.dcsupperclub (at) gmail.com
• Supper Underground (SUG) (Austin Area, TX) –  site
• Underground, Inc (Des Moines, IA) – site
• Outstanding In The Field (roving) – site
• Ghetto Gourmet (coast to coast) – site
• Plate and Pitchfork (Portland Area, OR) – site
• Coach Peaches (Brooklyn, NY) – Email only: dinner (at) coachpeaches.com

*Many of these were discussed in the book Secret Suppers by Jenn Garbee (find here).

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Linsey June 15, 2009

HA! first – lol – will think of something to say after i read it! brb

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2 Linsey June 15, 2009

great idea – like raves but for foodies…

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3 Katie June 16, 2009

Exactly Linsey….Raves for foodies. I can’t decide what I’d rather do…attend one, or create one!

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4 Linsey June 16, 2009

i think u should create one personally – i bet you would love that

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5 Jen June 16, 2009

I’ve got to get my hands on this book. And, my vote is for you to create one.

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6 Katie Pizzuto June 16, 2009

It was a good “insider” book, Jen….lets you go behind the doors to several of these places and get inside the heads of the people who run them. I really need to get up the balls to try it 🙂

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7 Yvette June 16, 2009

OK Linsey you win! Cool Concept, maybe we should collaborate 🙂

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8 Katie Pizzuto June 16, 2009

Now that sounds like a plan, Yvette! But where the hell would we seat a dozen people? LOL!

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9 Linsey June 17, 2009

Its not exactly the same

but in the uk there is a club called ‘the Pudding Club’ at one hotel

they get together and are served seven different puddings – everyone has to try a bit of every dessert

all the desserts too are supposed to be very traditional british ones … like spotted dick!

love the idea of people getting together like this – secretly or otherwise

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10 Lisa June 22, 2009

We have been doing this in L.A. all year! Check out photos form our last UNDERGROUND WINE TASTING DINNER which was held in a really cool photo studio!!

http://www.vanessastump.com/blog/

http://www.robgreer.com/blog/category/studio-news/

Lisa
PROVISIONS (for life)

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11 sam December 1, 2009

I live in des moines and am interrsted in finding the one here. Any suggestions?

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12 Katie Pizzuto December 1, 2009

@Sam…hmm, I have the link to their site right here in my post, but it doesn’t seem to be loading, which means one of two things: either the site is just down at the moment, undergoing maintenance, or something like that…OR they’re defunct. Keep trying the link and if it still isn’t working in a couple of days your best bet may be to hop onto Ghetto Gourmet, sign up and then chat with locals there. They might be able to help you. Best of luck!

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