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Secret Suppers

Rogue Chefs & Underground Restaurants in Warehouses, Townhouses, Open Fields & Everywhere in Between
By Jenn Garbee

Secret Suppers: Rogue Chefs & Underground Restaurants in Warehouses, Townhouses, Open Fields & Everywhere in Between

What started as a good cook, a few friends and dinner in a makeshift dining room has quickly escalated into a food phenomenon: the underground restaurant. While no set standard exists for the definition, the underground restaurant—a sort of fuzzy hybrid between a restaurant and a traditional dinner party—redefines what it means to dine out and what it means to entertain. Jenn Garbee hit the road to explore this food antiestablishment in her new book, Secret Suppers: Rogue Chefs & Underground Restaurants in Warehouses, Townhouses, Open Fields & Everywhere in Between.

From Los Angeles to Brooklyn, Des Moines to Austin, Garbee journeys the country in search of the most fascinating secret (and sometimes not-so-secret) dinners. No two suppers are alike, though the formula is always the same: a generous host, a mix of friends and strangers, copious food and wine, and a "suggested donation" at the end of a dinner. Eating her way through ten different underground restaurants, Garbee encounters ex-chefs and talented home cooks, new friends and quirky guests, the occasional "nude barbecue," and a BYOP (Bring Your Own Plate) roving farm dinner. Not to mention great food.

Garbee's conversational style breezes by quickly, and her shrewd and often amused storytelling transports us right to the dinner table with her. Each chapter (one for every dinner) reads as its own vignette, complete with recipes. But Secret Suppers is by no means a cookbook, or even a guide to underground restaurants. As Garbee explains, the constantly changing locations and invitation-only events don’t exactly lend themselves to a guide. While most big-city suppers require only a quick Internet search, a small-town underground restaurant may take some sleuthing to find. Or, as ten other secret supper hosts have discovered, your own underground restaurant is only a kitchen away.


Grilled Figs with Prosciutto and Aged Balsamic
From Farmers Market Wednesdays with Josh Loeb

Serves 12

24 firm Genoa or Black Mission figs, stems removed
8 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, cut into 24 cubes
24 thin slices of Prosciutto di Parma
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons 12- to 18-year-old balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt

Preheat the grill to high or the oven to 450˚.

Rinse the figs and pat dry. With a paring knife cut a small slit in the bottom of each fig. Insert a cube of cheese and with your fingers gently squeeze the opening closed. Wrap one slice of prosciutto around each fig, rolling the fig to blanket it completely. Repeat with the remaining figs and place on the grill. With the lid close, grill until the figs are browned on one side, about 4 minutes. Flip the figs and repeat.

Alternatively, preheat the broiler to high and place the figs in a roasting pan. Broil until browned, about 2 minutes. Flip the figs and broil another 2 minutes or until golden brown and soft. 

Place the warm figs on a serving platter and drizzle with the oil and vinegar. Sprinkle with the salt to taste. Serve immediately.

Reviewed by Nancy Huang

(Updated: 12/23/08 SB)

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