SecretEATS, an idea so cool you wonder how you didn’t think of it yourself (or you did, it’s the dinner party you sometimes host on a Saturday night with friends, except with strangers in a changing location). Founder Greg Zeleny chats to CTE.com about this brilliant underground dining concept.
How did the idea ‘Secret Eats’ start?
Underground dining isn’t new or revolutionary. It’s something I’d experienced while living in New York and when I moved to Cape Town (I’m from the States originally), I wanted to go to one. At the time, nothing like it existed. In fact, I would tell people about the idea or concept and they thought I was crazy. People said, ‘Oh, you don’t know Capetonians, they’d never have dinner with strangers… I mean, I would, but no one else would.’ I believed there was a market for it. I guess you could say it started just from my personal desire to bring people together over good food, great wine and the desire to socialise with new, interesting people.
What is the basic concept (for someone unfamiliar with it)?
We host secret, underground dinners that are invitation-only with top chefs in unusual, unexpected and often amazing spaces. We’ve hosted in private homes, art galleries, abandoned warehouses – inside the Castle of Good Hope – all sorts of places. The only rule is that it’s never a restaurant or somewhere people could just rock up and have dinner. It’s a shared, communal dining experience where you get to meet the person next to you and chat throughout the night.
What has the reception from Cape Town locals been like?
Incredible. People tend to love it.
How do you choose your chefs and venues?
It’s a mix. We’re constantly on the lookout for the coolest new underground or secret spots. We’ve got people looking and scouting. But we’ve also developed a network of contacts through our guests and partners so we do get approached to host it in their spaces too. It’s a delicate balance and we’re always keen to see what people have to offer or where we might host next.
Why do you think this concept has taken off so well?
Great question. I think it’s a simple matter of people wanting something different and unique. We’re not competing with restaurants – we’re a completely unique experience. We’re giving chefs from top restaurants a chance to do whatever they’d like for a night and the chance for people to interact and engage in a completely different manner. At SecretEATS, the evening is about interacting and connecting with people, including the chef, the winemaker, the venue owner and the guy sitting next to you.
That’s a secret, of course. I can tell you this though – we’ve got some incredible plans for 2015. From continuing work with the country’s top chefs to expanding into overnight adventures and getaways, as well as corporate and private events. We’re also hosting a singles-only event every other month and will be expanding that in 2015.
In terms of what’s next this year, we’ve only got two dinners left. We’ve got one on 13 December and it’s going to be incredible. I can’t say much but one of EAT OUT’S top 10 chefs will be cooking in an insane location. It’s quite possibly the best SecretEATS we’ve ever done. We’ve also got a singles-only night happening on Wednesday, 10 December and that’s going to be an amazing one, too. It’s taking place in the heart of the CBD and you never know what might happen (last time, we served one of the courses in the pool)!
Photographs ST Photography