Bob Townsend of the AJC [pictured at left] sent me a list of questions for an upcoming interview on underground restaurants.
OK, the story is up on AccessAtlanta.com [an AJC publication], so I’ve posted the interview in its entirety.
Generally, I’d like to get your take on the scene, especially anything you think has been missed or misconstrued in previous stories.
Great question! Thanks for asking.
Most of the news coverage on the underground scene is either a trend/style piece or food porn. Writers paint these scenes of fancy meals or secretive meetups. These are seductive details; I understand why most writers stop at this level. But I think there are much more interesting stories to be told. Who goes to these underground dinners? Why have 2,000 people joined the rogueApron mailing list? What is missing from people’s experiences with food – in restaurants, in their grocery stores, in their meals at home – that so many of us are excited join a underground dining community?
I think we are a point in which we crave authenticity: food that is sourced ethically and cooked with care, the chance to meet other people who are passionate about their lives and active in their communities. I think that this is the most compelling aspect of the underground dining scene – it is truly the guests.
Then I’d like to know what inspired you to start Rogue Apron and what’s your food/cooking background (chef? home cook? in other food groups or organizations?)
I identify as a cook – I do not have formal training. I have worked in the restaurant business as a cook with some enormously talented chefs – I respect their craft enormously and would never claim that title for myself.
As for why rogueApron started … oh, sometimes I don’t know! No, the more honest answer is that I was at a place in my life where I had absolutely nothing to lose. And thankfully, I quickly met a lot of other people who wanted to be a part of it.
Lisa Hanson tells me you were involved in last Labor Day’s picnic for better food in schools…..(movement started by Alice Waters and pioneered by Michelle Obama)….How does that tie in to Rogue Apron?
1/3 of children born after 1990 will develop Type II diabetes; 1/4 will end up overweight or obese. These are startling facts, but it’s no surprise if you look at a school cafeteria tray filled with processed foods, sodas and chips. It’s a sad truth that fresh vegetables are more expensive than junk calories. Children from low-income families should not suffer life-long health problems because our food system is skewed. Essentially, the more I learned about the Farm to School movement (Thanks Erin Croom at Georgia Organics!), the more I felt that it was just the right thing to do, to help out as best I could. I knew that the rogueApron community would be eager to get involved in such a worthy cause – we had about 80 rockstar volunteers who passed out fliers, informed their community groups, and recruited friends to attend the protest.
I understand you also organize entrepreunerial meet-ups to help people share resources and ideas….
Yep! The Lady Rogue Business Network was a natural offshoot of the rogueApron community. We are all about supporting sustainable local businesses, especially those that are run by female entrepreneurs – although men are welcome! “Loconomy” is the term, and we’re all about supporting our fellow entrepreneurs – including farmers, designers, crafters, shop-owners and jam makers.
[Above, L-R: Lionel Flax, Amy Herr, Jennifer Peté, Rebecca Kern, Lady Rogue, Elizabeth Beasley & Shari Margolin at the November Sam Flax meetup. Photo courtesy Piedmont Review.]
I hear you have a fairly small house and kitchen (as we all do in this part of town), but you obviously love to entertain… Was that an impetus for Rogue Apron?
I didn’t have a place to live when I started rogueApron, so this place seems very big to me! Three years ago, the recession nabbed my job; I didn’t have much besides a wok, two wooden spoons, my laptop and a suitcase of clothes. I tried to get back on that corporate job ladder but the ladder didn’t want me – so I had literally nothing to lose by trying out my own ideas.
I think you’ve collaborated with East Atlanta Brewery. Do they try to pair the beers with the menu? Have you done anything with Georgia wineries?
Yes, we have collaborated with them – they are close friends of ours, and we usually pair beers with the menu. Either they brew something to fit a theme (for example an Irish Red Ale for our St. Patricks’ Day Feast) or we plan a dinner around their brew (a Coconut Extravaganza based around the delicious Roasted Coconut Porter).
Nothing with wineries yet; I love beer so the dinners stick in this realm :)
What is the most exotic/unusual place you’ve held a dinner?
The Drive-In gets my vote for the most unusual.
Have there been fiascos/crashers/cooking problems/weather issues?
We’ve been really lucky … the only problem we ever had was with our first dinner, scheduled literally the day after the March 2008 tornado. Our corned beef had been aging for weeks in EAB Porter, and we had to scramble in downed power lines, trees, and ferocious rain to fetch ice to keep it nice and cold. We rescheduled the dinner, and all was well.
[Above: Heath & Berit at our debut dinner.]
You have people host events in their home/business, correct? What does someone need to do/provide to be a host for an underground dinner?
Good question, and yes. It’s more of a timing/space/personality fit than anything else. [Hosting FAQ]
Where do you like eat when you’re not underground?
Bookhouse Pub, Noni’s, Gato Bizco, Bone Garden Cantina, Antico Pizza.
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