PSFK Talks to The Ghetto Gourmet
Jeremy Townsend is the founder and director of The Ghetto Gourmet, an “underground” social dining project whose network has spread to include over 300 community dinner parties all over the U.S. These informal, ‘secret’ dining events encourage strangers connected through the Ghetto Gourmet virtual community to meet one another offline, share stories and recipes, and make new friends. Oh and eat. Eat lots of tasty food. We asked Jeremy and four-year Ghetto Gourmet veteran, Vera Devera, to tell us a bit more about The Ghetto Gourmet.
What is Ghetto Gourmet all about?
Jeremy: The Ghet is about sharing and trying new things. At first it was a stage for my little brother to try new dishes, and then it grew to include other chefs, and other artists. It’s about creating a new space and mode for experiencing food, art and socializing.
Vera: There are 3 rules at the Ghetto Gourmet and Rule #1 is “Give thanks.” Bringing people together is what the Ghet is really about – we can’t do it without people who are willing to step outside of what they know and try things at least once. This encompasses the chef, the all-volunteer crew, our adventurous diners and artists. Everyone is willing to go out on a limb, and this is the common thread among all those who willingly participate.
What inspired you to get involved in Ghetto Gourmet? Why do people participate?
J: I was initially attracted to the idea of providing restaurant quality food and communal dining in an “unknown” setting. I liked the flashmob aspect, the pirate radio/word of mouth technique, and the opportunity to experiment with how people interacted. It’s great to be able to create experiences without the expectations of space, menu, program, theme, etc. People come because they are looking for authentic social experiences that are outside of the traditional means. It’s so hard to have a conversation at a bar or club, and it’s hard to meet people in restaurants. people come to meet and interact and share with “strangers” in a new and neutral setting.
V: My best friend found the Ghet through a Craigslist’s posting in the singles section. She asked me to go and although we both live in Oakland, I hesitated at the thought of going to some “pirate restaurant”. My curiosity ousted my fear and I found myself sitting on top of dirty pillows on the floor of a basement apartment and eating fabulous small bites, such as hearts of palm wrapped with prosciutto and a drizzle of balsamic reduction, in a room full of 9 other strangers (not including my best friend and boyfriend). What I remember the most was feeling at home – Jeremy and Joe welcomed us with open arms and I soon became a regular diner, every Monday night. I was excited knowing I was participating in something illicit and yet I was making connections with people who shared the same interests or social connections as myself. It was like online social networking coming to life in person.
What aspects of San Franscisco/the Bay Area are inspiring you right now?
J: Over the last four years the internet and how we use it has evolved so much. I would have never been able to do what I did with the Ghetto Gourmet without the internet. It gave me the ability to easily communicate with people and to be nimble and creative with how I got the word out. I think the SF Bay is full of people that are willing to try new things, and I am completely inspired by their willingness to trust. The Bay Area is such a rich environment for experimentation and new business ideas. The Bay Area is a place to prove the possibility of big ideas, because the people have a lot of hope.
V: While the Bay Area is rich with start-ups, what inspires me are the rising social entrepreneurs. These individuals really kick butt – finding solutions to tackle major social issues and offering new ideas for local, regional or even global change. The Bay Area is a great place to incubate and launch ideas! And no matter what season, I always find inspiration at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market.
Learn more about the Ghetto Gourmet and other inspirational businesses and events in the Bay Area in PSFK Snapshot: San Francisco.
Thanks, Jeremy and Vera!
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