A surge of underground dining is happening around the city. If you already know what underground dining is, you’re probably way cooler than most people and listen to better music.
Don’t worry, if you’re like me and listen on repeat to Ke$ha’s ‘Animal’ album on your MP3 player — No?
Okay, well there’s still wiggle room here for us to relate. Let’s try this:
If you’re like me and underground dining doesn’t immediately make you say aloud, “Oh, yes. Underground dining. That’s that thing I do quite often,” then follow me, dear friends, as we tunnel on a journey beneath the surface to a world where food is hidden and secrets are brewed like a witch playing a game of Clue — No?
So you haven’t heard of underground dining but you’re pretty sure it’s nothing like the aforementioned scenario? Okay, then. Let’s try this:
How about an example?
How about, let’s say, Christine Cikowski, founder of Sunday Dinner Club.
Does this work? Good.
Dear friends, please don’t turn too green when I tell you that I had the privilege of meeting Christine and team while baking their specialty granola bars. But before we venture into that area, let me introduce you to Christine.
She’s a young chef already with a lot under her belt. I mean, she knows Stephanie Izard, winner of Top Chef Season 4, which, if you’re like me, a reality TV fanatic — No? Back to Christine. Christine and business partner, Josh Kulp, began their Sunday Dinner Club as way to showcase their own foods and create community outside of the restaurant environment on their only day off, which was, drum roll: Sunday. To be invited to a Sunday Dinner Club at Christine’s own home, you have to be referred by someone that’s been to the Sunday Dinner Club. In that way, it became an exclusive club of 5,000 friends over that last five years.
Christine made a point to me — if you want to know what underground dining is, I’m about to tell you! — that chefs go into underground, or secret, dining for various reasons. Some chefs truly want just that. They are double agent chefs who work in restaurants during the week and run stealthy, undercover (and delicious) operations as soon as the weekend breaks. Part of the secrecy is about staying out of the eyes of authorities and all that licensing stuff.
For Christine and Josh, the motives were less about being more secretive, and more about the idea of community:
“Feelings are involved when you think of Sunday family dinner. At Sunday Dinner Club, the food is served by chefs and explained by chefs who want people to appreciate food that was made my somebody for them. The experience becomes something bigger than us. We provide the food, and everything else is organic.”
A meal at the Sunday Dinner Club will give you a different dining experience, a personal one that you don’t necessarily get in restaurants. Unless you’re like me and find Chipotle incredibly hospitable — No?
Fine. Unlike the Chipotle menu, Christine and Josh change their menu based on the seasons. They cook with the current, not against it, and use the best foods of the season to inspire them.
Now, back to those granola bars — Yes?!
You must try to get your hands on one of these delicious homemade wonders. The second aspect of Christine and Josh’s business is Eat Green Foods, a line of foods made from all things local and sustainable from ingredients to packaging to economy. In fact, Christine gave me two bars to taste, and I even ate them locally– about a block away from the kitchen the Eat Green Foods team was working in. You can find these energy-bearing delicacies in Chicago at around thirty different cafes and Whole Foods.
Christine and Josh have been savvy business people. With a specialty business like theirs, they have found ways around the quirks. They depend heavily on their iPhones, link their calendars and even video chat to keep in contact with one another throughout the day since they don’t have a common office.
Plus, they have fans. Fans who frequent their dinner club and fans on Facebook. They use social media, Facebook and Twitter, to keep their customers up-to-date about where the next batch of granola bars might show up and what they’re making for Sunday Dinner. Christine noted that while it’s great to keep their customers in the know, you still have to be referred by somebody to make a reservation in Christine’s home for a Sunday Dinner. In that sense, there are boundaries to social media. But, hint, hint, friends:
You can find the Eat Green Foods folks at Chicago’s Green City Market selling delicious burgers. And, if you’re like me, you can introduce yourself to them and prove you’re just another completely normal person who loves Ke$ha– No?
Well, maybe you’ll give a better impression.
Until, then, if you want to keep digging up information on Christine’s take on underground dining, get in touch with them on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Chicago-IL/Sunday-Dinner/81886479911?v=wall&ref=ts) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/SundayDinnerChi) and sign up for their newsletter!
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