« Food & Drinks

Covert Culinary Arts: Yea or Nay

by Jeff Flynt

Psst...You wanna eat something great?

That (usually in online form) is how foodies and cutting-edge chefs meet up in secret locations to dine on some tremendous eats. 

Many are dubbed pop up restaurants.

In New York City, they're going with the term underground supper clubs.

There are several factors here:

1) As in the NYC scenario, there are no health regulations. The Health Department is looking to snuff out these illegal operations/dinner parties. 

2) Diners pay a premium to learn about these exclusive events. Should it be on a "per-meal basis" or part of a membership fee?

3) Many times, as in the SF case, these gatherings are at locations which aren't supposed to be hosting them. It may not be trespassing, but it's pretty darn close.

4) And what is the overall effect for chefs, organizers and customers? Is it a good thing, bad thing, how will it affect regular restaurant business?

First of all, while health departments across the country are concerned about the impacts of unlicensed and unregulated operations serving food for money without posting a letter grade on their doors, when has it really mattered to the diner?

I can go into any restaurant, and take the chance that I could get sick from the person or persons handling my food. It doesn't matter if they have an "A", "B", or "C" from the local health department. 

So this idea that an entire populace could be wiped out due to underground or pop-up dinners seems a bit far-fetched. 

I would also argue that the people taking the time to organize and put these events together care MORE about what goes into the food on the plate, than say the average line cook at IHOP.

Diners, who can afford to attend these events, should be able to spend their money how they want. Whether they're plunking down $150 for a dinner at Ruth's Chris, or $100 for a four-course meal at Patty's house done by an up-and-coming chef, shouldn't be a factor.

Restaurants that pack in the crowds Thursday through Saturday nights are doing just fine, but customers will dictate who or what becomes the next hot food trend.

Now, if there's some sort of fire code violation, or condemned building where people are taking a chance on going just to eat the most authentic Chinese street food this side of Beijing...that could be a problem. But again, I go back to the idea of customers should be able to do what they want with their culinary experience. There are some neighborhoods and countries which can also be dangerous, but the food can make it worthwhile.

Chefs nationwide have been debating this particular issue

But like you and me, they each have their own take on whether this culinary trend is a positive or a negative. 

Personally I like the idea of this kind of dining. The "illegal" aspects to this can be debated, but with food, there shouldn't be many hard and fast laws. Make food safely by caring about what goes on the plate, and make it a memorable experience. That's one of the most important tenets of dining, and should be the goal of everyone who eats.

(Photo by: Pigup/Creative Commons)