How a Dinner Party can
Change the Economy:
The Book

Table of Contents

1 Not a potluck: is it food? is it performance art? is it democracy? (introduction)

2 inviting 200 people to dinner (The Story of The Viand)

3 From commodity to community (The Local Food Movement)

4 The feast that creates culture (transforming the Economy)

5 Dining with strangers (The Underground Restaurant Movement)

6 From the all-chefs to shop-cook-eat, with a 10-course dinner in between (The How-To)

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What’s Underground Restaurant about?

After cooking 26 dinners in 3 countries over the last 7 years, we finally wrote the story of our underground restaurant!  It’s a ten course feast, and all the ingredients are sourced from local farmers and artisan producers. The preparation is simple, to inspire our guests to cook at home. They can wander into the open kitchen to watch, ask questions, and help out. Most of the dishes have a story, of provenance, memory, or family.  The evening includes intimate rituals that remind participants that this is no ordinary dinner. Guests are greeted at the door and promptly hand-fed a bite of food by someone they have never met. Like the events we host, the book works on several levels. It’s a beautiful experience full of luscious photos. It’s about eating and even includes a few favorite recipes. It’s a considered expression of values, and a strategy for manifesting and sharing them, including a how-to chapter with precise logistics. It’s part of a movement, celebrating the creativity and bravado of other underground restaurants and projects. And the book explains how the successes of the local food and underground restaurant movements can be applied beyond the food system to transform our economies. In the book we tell our own story in great detail. Not because we made a lot of money, got written up in The New York Times, or cooked for famous people. (We haven’t, yet.) But because underground restaurants are not really about cooking for 30 people, or charging your friends for dinner, or having strangers in your house. It’s about making space for the things you care about and are worried about and finding ways to celebrate, protect, and grow the kind of world you want to live in. We figured out how to do that as we went along, which is how social movements happen. Two pieces of news make the book even more exciting:
  • On 1 July The New York Times reported US Department of Agriculture data on the economic impact of the local food movement. “Getting closer to the customer” has meant $4.8 billion revenue for small-scale farming which is now, once-again, an economically viable industry with a new generation of farmers and investors. We can change the economy!
  • Underground Eats is a new portal to underground restaurants, promising members to arrange once-in-a-lifetime experiences. This means that there are enough underground restos just in NYC to support a booking agent!
We have seen the local food movement sidestep the cooptation of organic by developing an alternative to symbolic certification. Local Food is a social movement now, which understands food as community, rather than commodity.People want to know their farmer, and not just to reassure them about ecological practices, but to complete a circle of social relations around the production and consumption of food. And this movement has made small-scale farms and the livelihood of farming viable again. It has also made turnips and ham hocks chic, and elevated home cooking to an art happening. People are in fact clamoring to dine on pork tartare cooked by untrained chefs in private homes with maybe not enough chairs for everyone to sit down to eat. Underground restaurants epitomize the interest in a new economics marked by trust, integrity, and connection with strangers.