Clean Plate Charlie: How did the Cobaya Underground group originate, and who are its founders?
Frodnesor: A few of us who knew each other from local blogs, mainly the South Florida Chowhound board, or elsewhere were asked by a local restaurant to do some menu-tasting for them. That evening, we started talking about the "underground dinner" concept, and it quickly went from "Why isn't anyone doing that here?" to "Why don't we do it?" Founders: Frodnesor (me), the Chowfather, and Blind Tastes -- all local bloggers.
How are the events coordinated? How and why are specific restaurants chosen?
"Coordination" might be too strong a word; somehow it usually all comes together, though. We look for chefs who show some creative inclination, the ability and desire to do something beyond whatever their current situation permits. Sometimes they're not in a restaurant at all; sometimes it may be a restaurant where they can't really cook the kinds of things they might want to.
Have you had any problems in coordinating with chefs and/or restaurants in the past?
We only work with people who want to work with us -- there's no arm-twisting involved. The most difficult things are usually just getting the dinners scheduled and finding venues for those chefs who aren't in restaurants.
I know that you have a disclaimer, but sometimes people don't read materials thoroughly. Have you had any issues with participants that have complained?
The disclaimer: "There is no menu. There are no choices. You'll be eating what the chef chooses to make for the night. If you have food related allergies, strict dietary requirements, religious restrictions; are salt sensitive, vegetarian, pescatarian, or vegan; don't like your meat cooked medium rare, or are pregnant: this meal is probably not for you. Do not expect white-glove service. Don't ask for sauce on the side. Just come and enjoy."
Amazingly, no. Not everybody has loved every dish, and not everybody has loved every dinner, but nobody has ever complained because they couldn't order the chicken or because they couldn't get their sauce on the side or because we didn't have salad forks. It's been a great group of people that have come out, and we've been very fortunate to have such great support for these events.
What is the mission of the group?
There's a mission statement on the website:
"The goal here is a very simple one -- to get talented chefs to cook great, interesting, creative meals for an audience of adventurous, open-minded diners. That may happen inside a restaurant, it may happen outside of one. It may be a multi-course tasting menu, it may be a family-style whole hog dinner (here's hoping). For those who question the 'underground' street cred of this mission, those questions are perfectly legitimate. My answer is, 'I don't care.' We're not limiting ourselves to meals cooked in abandoned warehouses in secret locations disclosed the day before the dinners; we're also not limiting ourselves to white tablecloths and silverware changed between every course. We're very open-minded that way: All that matters is good food, and we think there's enough similar-minded folks to make that game plan sustainable."
Do you want the group to become more mainstream, and if so, what are you doing to achieve this goal?
To expand our mainstream appeal, we're hoping to have Justin Bieber cook a dinner for us. Or cook Justin Bieber for dinner. One or the other, if that doesn't work out, we'll probably just stick with doing things the way we're doing them. There already is a website: Cobaya Miami Underground
Give me some ideas that are brewing in your head for future events.
Sorry, that's a secret.