Best Underground Supper Club (2011)

Woody's Underground

Have you been to a secret supper club? And we don't mean one of those quasi-secret-but-everyone-on-Twitter-knows-about-it events that keep popping up like, well, pop-ups. We mean really secret. Like, don't-tell-the-health-department secret.

If not, you might want to try to hook up with Chef Woody (a.k.a. Forrest Rosh), who's been throwing dinner parties in his mother's North Phoenix backyard since last November.

Rosh, 22, is a graduate of Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale. He's worked at the Wrigley Mansion and the House at Secret Garden. He knows his way around a professional kitchen. But one day he decided to go basic. He made a web site and put up some flyers. No specifics about the menu were given. Through word of mouth, 25 people made a "suggested donation" of $40 on PayPal, BYOB'd it, and found their way to a seven-course meal in Eduarda's backyard. The place settings came from Goodwill, but no one skimped on the food. That first menu included cold and hot soup shooters, pork belly cilantro salad, a cheese board, warm butternut squash and arugula salad, sorbet intermezzo, salmon cakes, hanger steak with mac 'n' cheese and Brussels sprouts, and finally a semifreddo for dessert. The meal went on for three hours.

Since Woody's Underground is not a restaurant, Rosh cannot charge money, tax, or tip for the experience, and he and his family do not have any relationships with health inspectors, fire marshals, or PR agencies. Think of it as a dinner party for strangers. At the end of the first evening, the family broke even. They considered it a smashing success.

Preparation and service is a family affair. Rosh uses nothing more than the standard fridge and sink, a four-burner stove, and a lot of organization to pull it all off. His sister helps with the management, and a slew of teenage cousins are brought in to bus, plate, and clean. While space is a challenge at times, careful planning has made everything work so far.

The second event was a brunch, which attracted more guests, followed by an all-you-can-eat pasta supper designed to reach a broader demographic. But with space for just 40 in Mom's backyard, Chef Woody's going to have to get creative.

He's been thinking ahead. For his meals, Rosh relies on local farms and retailers as much as possible and presents a list of his suppliers to the guests in hopes of promoting their businesses. He also is hoping to start a vegan line of baked goods to sell at local small business and farmers markets — Woody's Goodies.

As fall approaches and the temperature cools, Rosh is beginning to plan the next backyard events, and considering hosting events at other private homes. Instead of planning bigger parties, the goal for the moment is to keep things small. You know, underground.


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