I don’t usually knock on strangers’ doors, especially not in Bed-Stuy. But that’s exactly what I found myself doing this Saturday for a very special dinner at the Elephant Speakeaterie. Lately, the underground dining scene has been getting more and more attention, with organizations like Underground Eats throwing lavish members-only dinner parties and themed evenings. Then there was the famed recreation of the Titanic’s Last Supper. But what about an experience for the average New Yorker who doesn’t want to break the bank, but still wants to get in on the burgeoning underground dining scene?
For that New Yorker there’s the Elephant Speakeaterie run by Diederik Comte, a self-taught chef and former fashion designer. Every Saturday, Diederik, Anna and Sasha host a four course dinner for ten people in their cozy apartment on Bedford Avenue. When I arrived on Saturday, Anna led me up to their sixth floor apartment, where the scene was set with candles all around, vases of flowers and a perfectly set table framing the large elephant mural on the wall. Sounds of sizzling and tantalizing scents permeated the apartment. Guests were seated in the lounge, where Diederik served his own Sake cucumber infusion. Each course was carefully prepared and the presentation was immaculate. The vegetarians and vegans of the group were accommodated with specially prepared alternatives.
The menu was well thought-out to provide guests with an unusual culinary experience that could be described as avant-garde without being pretentious. A little ball of cantaloupe ice sat at the bottom of the tomato cucumber water gazpacho, imbuing the dish with a subtle hint of sweetness. A grilled, marinated pineapple ring was hidden under the paella, adding a complexity to this otherwise rather simple dish.
When asked where he gets his recipes, Diederik responded that he thinks of them off the top of his head. As a Swiss/Dutch/Brazilian/American, he draws inspiration from many different culinary cultures. As a child, he was very close to his Eritrean nanny and grew up with a base of Eritrean and Tuscan food. That influence is clear in the strong flavors of squid and tomato, as well as the paella (which was almost more like a risotto than a true Spanish paella) and the zabaione. It could have been dull, but by adding unique touches like the cantaloupe ice, the grilled pineapple and the sake infusions (there were also pineapple and cantaloupe mint sake infusions), Diederik made sure to mix things up. All of the food he serves is fresh and many of the vegetables come from his own garden.
Diederik and Anna hope to open their own restaurant in Brooklyn. For them, the best part of hosting these underground dinners is meeting new people and providing them with an experience they couldn’t get elsewhere. Their menus change bi-weekly and from Wednesday on they start preparing. They’re working on developing dinners with a burlesque show by House of Yes.
Get in touch with the author @lauraitzkowitz