Illegal Food

Hold onto your fork. That's the most important rule at the Ghetto Gourmet, the Bay Area's hottest illegal restaurant, a roving event produced by a band of culinary outlaws who host under-the-radar dinner parties (sans permits or licenses) at different locations in San Francisco and the East Bay.

Last Wednesday night's dinner (four courses; only one fork per guest) at a private home on Cesar Chavez Street was packed with about 40 guests ranging from a 10-year-old to restaurateur Michael Hebberoy, who chronicled the event for his upcoming book, Kill the Restaurant. Hebberoy hatched one of the country's most famous underground restaurants (Family Supper, which later changed its name to Ripe) out of his Portland, Ore., living room. The underground food scene, he says, was "an illegal restaurant that grew into a strange hybridized monster, which made a bunch of noise, then collapsed."

Hebberoy plans to bring his modern Socratic-style symposiums nationwide, re-establishing intellectual talk over dinner and beyond, from which "the food experience of this country has been divorced," he says. Food used to be a part of life — creating community, culture, and conversation — but it's been commodified, he feels. "We don't even know why we gather and eat anymore."

The compartmentalized way that we look at food is going to change, if Hebberoy has his way. "We go to restaurants," he explains, "but we're not compelled by some greater cultural matrix that says we're involved in food.

"I guess I'm working on changing those things."

He's starting with big names. After landing in S.F. for a meal or two, Hebberoy and his entourage flew to Los Angeles for a dinner party in the home of Gore Vidal. He and the host compiled the guest list — which included musician Michael Stadler, director Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down), and Madonna's sister — to bring together some of the most "provocative, disruptive human beings on the planet," for philosophy and food.

Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez are on Hebberoy's "to-cook-for" list, but for now he's launching a lecture series, explaining how to create a social food revolution of one's own (the first installment will most likely be in San Francisco). "I'll be causing trouble for a while, I think."

 
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