Gourmets Go Underground

Article excerpt

Byline: Gina Pace

A group of young chefs recently spent a day on the roof of a Brooklyn loft, roasting a goat and a dozen legs of lamb on two gigantic spits. To attend this "culinary collective," guests had to register on a Web site, be deemed worthy, get the password to buy admittance and wait for a treasure map to show the way. It led past a wine store, and suggested pairings for the evening's appetizer of asparagus, morels and leafy greens with candied pork, and the roast-meat entree.

The adventure was hosted by a roving, monthly supper club, Studiofeast (studiofeast .com), named after the first dinner held by founder Mike Lee. He hosted the meal in his 800-square-foot studio, even using his dresser to carve a 25-pound suckling pig.

Underground supper clubs, with names like the Ghetto Gourmet (theghet.com) and One Pot (onepotblog.blogspot .com), started making an appearance on the foodie scene a few years ago. They were based at first on the principle that without the economic demands of running a restaurant, organizers would be free to take chances like promoting new chefs and demanding high-quality ingredients. But with a surging interest in eating locally, green groups are the rebel food community's taste du jour.

Jeremy Townsend, who founded Ghetto Gourmet more than four years ago, tracks these groups on his Web site. Of the 40 listed, he said 20 have sprung up in the past year. Almost all the newbies play up their service of local, organic eats.

"A lot of it is about shortening the gap between the farm and the table," says Townsend, who is based in Oakland, Calif. "We are a bit more nimble then a restaurant. It's harder for them to do an alternative dinner or a green dinner."

Supper clubs run the risk of being closed by local health departments if they are viewed as "restaurants" operating without a license. But Townsend says that clubs dodge this because they are private events with guests who "chip in" to pay for ingredients and usually bring alcohol with them.

Alicia and Daniel--who refuse to give their last names because they want to avoid any chance of being shut down--started the New York Bite Club (nybiteclub.com) about two and a half years ago. The inspiration was going to restaurants and thinking they could do it better.

"We weren't happy with the produce being used," says Alicia, 29. "We started re-creating a dish using more sustainable meats and greenmarket produce."

The idea came to create a Web site. …