You don’t know where you’re going to eat dinner, nor what you’ll eat nor with whom. The only thing certain is that in the secret dinners of Cuisine Collectif you must bring an open spirit, a desire for a different kind of socialising and, if you like, a bottle of good wine to share with the others, total strangers, who’ve come to chat around the table, look for a soul mate or maybe even find a job.
The diners don’t know where the party will be held –there are one or two a month– until just a short time earlier. An e-mail or a message is sent some 12 to 24 hours before the date, revealing whether it is at a painter’s studio, on a boat in the Orbetello Lagoon (some 180 kilometres from Florence) at dusk, or on the altar of a deconsecrated church, which were some of the places of recent get-togethers.
The organisers stress that this isn’t a formal date and that you should not expect the same kind of service of a traditional restaurant, but say it’s precisely this relaxed ambience that helps make the event a success by promoting conversation among the diners.
Cuisine Collectif is an open organisation, founded by Matthew “Lundi”, a chef who has worked in Rio de Janeiro, Amsterdam and Reykjavik, among other places, and Arianna “Petits Poissons”, an organiser of culinary events that she defines as “impossible” and based on “improbable” ingredients and “unfindable” recipes. In addition to preparing these secret dinners, which include decorators, chefs and creative people, she also organises events for private individuals or companies that want to use food as a way to communicate.
“Before launching the project, none of the members of the group had ever taken part in secret dinners or supper clubs,” says Lundi. “This kind of thing is still rare in Italy and there wasn’t one in Florence.”
“The secret dinners began in 2014,” says the chef, “as an experiment, almost a game, to test our team’s capacity to adapt to the place that had been chosen. We started from the idea of creating a pop-up restaurant that is born and dies the same day in an uncommon setting. To do this, we used the experience and philosophy of the traditional supper clubs, but with a new twist: using surroundings that were different each time. We don’t have a fixed headquarters and we don’t want one,” the chef adds.
There is no typical profile of participants in these secret dinners. Guests of over 50 sit beside young people of 25. “It’s a very social moment, and that’s why many people come alone,” says Lundi, who adds that the gatherings tend to end with people exchanging e-mail addresses and phone numbers.
To take part, it’s necessary to subscribe to the group’s mailing bulletin and not hesitate: there are only 25 reservations that are assigned by order of reception. The price changes depending on the kind of event –although it’s usually around 30 to 40 euros per person– as does the menu, which normally includes four dishes. “We try to reflect the setting in the menu,” says Lundi. “We offer rather eclectic and original food, although the basis is classic. For example, we like to prepare a risotto and a roast meat, but we smoke the meat with rosemary branches or marinate it in paprika. We like to play with unusual colours and flavours.”
Although the price includes the wine, participants can bring a bottle from home “without having to pay twice the price, as in restaurants,” according to the regulations. The organisers also have some amusing free advice for unattached gentlemen: “To impress that atractive woman seated beside you, you might consider sharing her with the other guests.”
Cuisine Collectif recently launched another initiative, the Second Sunday Supper Club, in association with the Claudio Nardi Architects studio in Florence. The offering combines design, architecture and a good meal on the second Sunday of each month, with a different chef each time, in a different old industrial setting.