Tuesday, March 29, 2016

friends of cobaya alerts: april 2016

We try not to flood your feed with extraneous information, but we do like to periodically bring to your attention events that may be of interest, particularly when they involve Cobaya alumni, and especially if we can help you get a discount. There happen to be several coming up:

Cochon 555 | April 3: The epic porcine festival – five chefs, five pigs, five winemakers – is back in town. This year's participants include Alex Chang of the Vagabond (Cobaya #53 and 59) and Diego Oka of La Mar (Cobaya #46), along with Michael Fiorello of Beachcraft, Xavier Torres of Drunken Dragon, and Anthony LePape of the Ritz-Carlton South Beach. Also taking part are Richard Hales of Sakaya Kitchen and BlackBrick (Cobaya #5, 11) and Jose Mendin of Pubbelly (Cobaya #37). Leading up to the main event, there's also a Late Night Asian Speakeasy at Phuc Yea on April 1, and a Chef's Course Dinner with several guest chefs at Beachraft on April 2.

Use this link to get discounted tickets ($20 off general admission, $30 off VIP).

Michelle Bernstein 10th Anniversary Dinner | April 6: Local hero Michelle Bernstein (Cobaya #12, 56) will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of Michy's (n/k/a Cena by Michy) with a five-course dinner featuring several alumni as guest chefs, including Timon Balloo (Cobaya #41) as well as Lindsay Autry, Berenice de Araujo, Jason Schaan and Sarah Sipe, with wines by Allegra Angelo and cocktails by Julio Cabrera.

If you didn't get in to Cobaya #61 on the same night, get seats at this Michy's dinner here.

Flavorwalla Pizzeria | April 12: Michael Schwartz (Cobaya #49) plays host to New York chef Floyd Cardoz at Harry's Pizzeria for an Indian-inspired version of his ongoing guest chef pop-up dinners.

Book here.

StarChefs South Florida Rising Stars | April 13: The 2016 StarChefs Rising Stars tasting and awards ceremony will feature a few Cobaya alumni – Alex Chang, Diego Oka and Brad Kilgore (Cobaya #21), as well as Jimmy Everett (Valentino Cucina Italiana), Niven Patel (Michael's Genuine), Phuket Thongsodchareondee (Cake Thai Kitchen), and Cesar Zapata (The Federal).

Get tickets here, and use the code RSBLOG to get a 10% discount.

Whole Steer Weekend @ Quality Meats | April 14-16: For three days, Patrick Rebholz of Quality Meats (Cobaya #54) will be cooking an entire steer with guest chef Negro Piattoni, who's worked at Bar Tartine and Francis Mallmann's Garzon. Thursday is BBQ night, Friday is a family style dinner, an Saturday is a formal dinner.

Tickets for each night are available here.

As a side note: if you're really opposed to getting these kinds of updates, let us know. We don't expect to do so more frequently than once every month or so.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

experiment #61 - 4.6.16

Greetings Guinea Pigs - it's time for another experiment!

Quick Details:
Date: Wednesday April 6, 2016
Price: $100 (inclusive of tax and tip)
Start time: 7:00pm

We will be doing a drawing for seats from all requests received over the first 48 hours.

Please send an email to request seats and let us know how many you're requesting.

You will be advised by Monday March 28 if your request has been confirmed. You'll then need to book your seats by noon on Thursday March 31, or we may need to release the seats to the wait list to ensure all spots are filled. Note the tight schedule: please make your request quickly, and if you get a spot, please book quickly.

We have very limited seating available for this one, and while we try to accommodate everyone who is interested, that is usually not possible - most events fill up fast. Due to space limitations, we will limit people to 2 spots per request, though if you're interested in more let us know and your request will be added to the waitlist.

When your seat request has been confirmed, please book it using the PayPal link which will be set up on this page. Please do not book unless and until you've received a confirmation. When you do receive the confirmation, please book your seats through PayPal promptly. There will be a short window of time to book before seats need to be released back to the waitlist to make sure they're filled.

There will be an optional $40 pairing option; a la carte beverages will also be available and BYOB should be fine as well (but please confirm).

Confirmed and paid-up attendees will receive an e-mail the day before the event, confirming the location and other details.

A brief, but important, refresher course on the whole Cobaya thing: there is no "menu". There are no choices. You'll be eating what the chef chooses to make for the night. If you have food related allergies, strict dietary requirements, religious restrictions; are salt sensitive, vegetarian, pescatarian, or vegan; don't like your meat cooked medium rare, or are pregnant: this meal is probably not for you. Do not expect white-glove service. Don't ask for your sauce on the side. Just come and enjoy.

Plus some legalese: please note that if you're requesting a spot, you understand that any food or beverages you consume are at your own risk, that you voluntarily assume any and all risks, known and unknown, and voluntarily release the organizers of the event from any claims, including personal injury and wrongful death, resulting in any manner from your participation in this event, whether caused by negligence or otherwise. Hopefully it won't come to that.

Look forward to seeing you there. As always, thank you for your support.


experiment #61 - choose # and pairing

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

experiment #60 - Cobaya Kamayan with Chef Dale Talde

Well that was different, and a lot of fun. For Experiment #60, we paid a visit to Chef Dale Talde, who opened Talde Miami Beach in the Thompson Hotel about a year ago (he also has the original Talde, plus Pork Slope, and Thistle Hill in Brooklyn, and a Talde Jersey City too). Talde, though an unabashed advocate of "inauthentic" Asian-American food, did something for our dinner that was close to his Filipino-American roots: a "kamayan" feast.

What does that mean? No utensils, no plates, the entire meal spread out on a long communal table over banana leaves, and everyone just sits down and digs in. (After washing their hands, of course). It was dark and loud as Chef Talde came out to talk up the meal, and we didn't catch enough to give a fully accurate recap here. But there was chicken adobo, lechon kawali (Filipino fried pork belly), whole roasted grouper with stewed tomatoes, grilled shrimp, lumpia, papaya salad, green beans in coconut curry, and lots more. For dessert: "5G Cookies" (so named because Chef Talde won $5,000 in a Top Chef Quickfire Challenge for them).

In addition to lots of napkins, Chef Talde also sent everyone home with a copy of his book: "Asian-American: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from the Philippines to Brooklyn." A big thank you to Dale, to all of his team and partners at the restaurant for a really fun experience, and as always most of all, to our guinea pigs, whose interest and support make these events possible.

Friday, March 4, 2016

some thoughts on turning #60

It's hard to believe that next week we will be doing Experiment #60. Sixty! When we did our first experiment nearly seven years ago, we had no idea what to expect. Did anyone care? Would anyone even show up?

Thankfully, more than a dozen people came, and had what was still one of our favorite dinners, at the since-closed and much-missed Talula with chefs Andrea Curto-Randazzo and Kyle Foster. (Andrea still runs a very good catering business, Creative Tastes, and Kyle is killing it out in Denver at Colt & Gray and Rebel).

Since then, we've had the good fortune to work with a number of incredibly talented South Florida chefs, including James Beard award winners, relative unknowns, and everything in between, as well as the occasional out-of-town talent. We've been featured on Andrew Zimmern's show Bizarre Foods, and for the past two years have put on dinner events in conjunction with the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. We've had a countless number of great dishes along the way, and the occasional misstep too – these are experiments, after all.

During all that time, the Cobaya mission statement has never varied: to get talented chefs to cook great, interesting, creative meals for an audience of adventurous, open-minded diners. The modus operandi hasn't changed that much either: events are announced with only the date and the price; the location, chef and menu remain a surprise. Events are also open to anyone who wants to request a spot, provided they are OK with our ground rules: there are no membership fees or invitation-only lists.

What has changed is that, against our wildest expectations, these little experiments have become increasingly popular. There are now literally thousands of people who subscribe to our event announcements. We routinely get more than 200 requests for spots at each of our dinners, and our last one broke 300 – a new record for us. Since we typically have only 25-35 seats, that means we have to say "no" to a lot more people than "yes."

We bring this up not to brag about our popularity or tout our success, but rather to provide a bit of insight into the process. Over the course of nearly seven years and sixty dinners, we've made a number of changes in how we operate, all with the goal of making our events more accessible and inclusive.

When we realized we were regularly getting more requests than we had available spots, we started conducting a lottery rather than just selling seats on a first come first serve basis, so that people who didn't have hair-trigger e-mail reflexes wouldn't be excluded. We also, unless it's a large event, started limiting requests to only two seats, so we could get more different people into each dinner. Eventually, we also started holding back one set of seats for what we call the "Biggest Loser" – the person who had made the most requests without ever getting in – as a reward for persistence.

All of this necessitated us compiling a spreadsheet to track each person's "record," so that we know how many times they've asked for spots, and how many times they've gotten in (and how many times they've canceled). A ridiculous number of hours has been invested in compiling and maintaining "The Great Book of Cobaya," which gets updated after every dinner. We now have over a thousand names on that list, and of those, more than 400 have attended at least one event. Typically, depending on the luck of the draw, between 1/3 and 1/2 of the spots at our events lately are filled by "newbies" who have never been before.

It would be a whole lot easier for us to just fill seats by invitation or sell them on a first-come-first-serve basis. We should also perhaps mention that this is a hobby for us, that we make no money off of it, and in fact we've paid our own way to each of the dinners we organize. But part of the reason we do this is that it is a kind of proselytizing: we want to make these kinds of experiences available to a broader universe of diners, and we want chefs and restaurateurs to know there is an audience in Miami for a more adventurous style of cooking.

Still and yet, when you only have 25-35 spots, and are getting 200-300 requests for them, invariably there are going to be a lot of disappointed people. The odds are self-evident, and since every event is a clean slate, there's a good chance you may be disappointed multiple times. Indeed, for our last event, we did a random drawing for the "Biggest Loser" from among multiple people who had 0-6 records. (We are so very grateful for your patience.)

There is no simple solution. We don't want to make our events bigger: we feel like the food and experience generally suffer when the numbers go much beyond what we currently do. We can't really do these much more frequently than the roughly one a month pace we currently keep, given the amount of time already devoted to both coordinating with the chefs and filling the seats. So we can only hope that people understand and keep trying.

But aside from explanation and apology, the other purpose of this post is to note that there are some things that you, our guinea pigs, can do to make the process work a little better for us and yourself:

(1) Respond to your emails.

Knowing that plans can change, we've tried to tighten our timeline: events are usually announced two weeks in advance, we typically send out "SEAT REQUEST CONFIRMATION" emails within 3-4 days of opening the request line, we typically give people 3 days to pay for their seats, and we send at least one "REMINDER / LAST CALL" message before the time runs. Each time, we ask that if people are not going to be using the spots, to let us know so we can release them to the wait list. And pretty much every time, there is at least one person who just doesn't respond at all after getting seats.

This is frustrating on multiple levels. First, we don't get why someone would request a spot if they're not going to use it. But more importantly, we don't get why it's too much of a burden to send a short response letting us know. This is not some anonymous, monolithic corporation mindlessly churning out emails – it's just three guys, who have to hustle even harder to make sure all the seats get filled when you don't let us know you won't be using them.

So please: don't request a spot if you're not sure you'll be able to use it, and if you do get stuck, PLEASE LET US KNOW. Cancellations are a pain, but the people who don't even respond are the worst. And since everything is recorded in The Great Book of Cobaya, we know who you are.

(2) Volunteer to fill in last minute.

As noted above, it seems like for every event, we have people who get seats and then don't use them. This means we have to fill those spots from the wait list, with a limited window of time within which to do so. Lately, when we send out the "WAIT LIST" notice, we ask people to let us know if they would be available last minute and the best way to get in touch. When those people actually come through, it's made the process of filling those wait-list spots so much more efficient. The people who promptly respond when they do get spots via the wait list make our jobs much easier.

(3) Don't be a whiner.

Every once in a while, we hear complaints to the effect of  "I've tried to get in a dozen times and never get in!" Here's the thing: we know exactly how many times you've made a request, so don't fib. And invariably, the people who complain also exaggerate the number of times they've tried. Also, here's a simple truth: nobody likes a whiner.

But those are the very rare exceptions. For the most part, we have been incredibly fortunate to have cobbled together a very good-natured group for our dinners. They get the mission, they are forgiving of the process, and they understand and accept that they're not going to get a spot every time. Every wait list notice we send ends the same way, and it's the truth: "There are some 'underground dining' groups that really thrive on the whole exclusivity thing. For us, the most difficult thing about these events is not being able to accommodate everyone."

If you've got ideas for how we can do it better, we're genuinely eager to hear them. And thanks as always for your support, without which these kinds of events would never happen.