At the foot of the biology building’s wide rear staircase—just below a spectacular view of the Reed canyon—the tables are sheathed in bedsheets and set with plastic dinnerware borrowed from commons. Absconded greenery arches over the stairway. Grow lights borrowed from the campus greenhouse are wrapped in gold lamé. The bare-bones basement hallway has become a candlelit grotto infused with the aroma of roasted root vegetables and grilled meat.
Customers begin to wander in cautiously. They got here through a series of emails—the event location revealed just hours before the meal. As they arrive, money changes hands. Behind the scenes, there’s a minor crisis with the grilled vegetables. Hebberoy’s laptop, wired to huge speakers, sets the playlist. Strangers introduce themselves and pour wine. Platters sail out to the tables and are passed hand-to-hand, and a buzz starts to rise. Beef tongue? Canyon foraging? Really?
“We hope that people [leave] the table asking bigger questions about what they eat,” says Cattrall. “But more importantly, we hope they’re wondering about the things they don’t [usually] eat. There is a lot of great food that Gourmet magazine, the Kraft Corporation, and the FDA don’t talk about or make available.”
The chocolate hazelnut tort appears, and conversations turn toward what’s next. One diner wants to roast a whole lamb in his backyard. Another reveals the details of her monthly dinner club, wherein dishes center around a provocative political or cultural theme. A plot is hatched for an underground cooperative to pool kitchenware and profits. The spirit of the public house or speakeasy is coming back to life, Hebberoy might say—conventional restaurant trappings removed, ideas are set loose over main dish, side dish, and dessert; conversations flow between strangers as easily as shared wine.
As Hebberoy says after the meal, palms outstretched as if delivering a proclamation: “people are feasting again.”