Underground dinner chefs Clandestino and author Christopher Garlington (The Beat Cop’s Guide to Chicago Eats) are planning a series of Monday night dinners on a theme, starting next Monday, July 25.
The theme: Vincent Price.
Vincent Price? The horror movie star? Yes, specifically, recipes from A Treasury of Great Recipes (1965), by Vincent Price and his wife Mary.
But that’s mad, you say! To try to lure diners to an abandoned convent, no less, for dinner based on a celebrity cookbook of the frozen food era! Yet there’s such a thin line, so cruelly thin a line, between madness and genius. Will you not hear Garlington out before you so casually declare another mad?
Besides being an effete maniac in Edgar Allan Poe movies, Price was a noted art collector and gourmet, and the book, steeped in all the pretensions to class of the Jackie Kennedy 1960s, was a bestseller in its day. As a kid, Garlington looked through the lavish, gilt-edged tome, “grooving on the pictures, digging the recipes, and wondering what it must be like to have the money to eat like that,” as he puts it on his blog, Eating Vincent Price.
Many years later Garlington had the idea of doing something with the book, “kind of like Julia and Julia, but less girly,” he says. “It’s definitely a man’s cookbook, in a Mad Men kind of way. It’s very meat-oriented. Actually, it’s not really a cookbook, it’s a collection of recipes that don’t really tell you what to do. It assumes, like a guy, that you know how to do everything and you’re just going to wing it anyway.”
Initially he contacted chefs about collaborating on the project. Many had childhood memories of the book and the outré world it portrayed, and he quickly got an enthusiastic bite from Clandestino’s Efrain Cuevas, who had the perfect Pricean location— an abandoned convent on the South Side. Then, like with one of Price’s characters, something snapped in Garlington’s head: “I realized as I met chefs, that I didn’t want to be a douchebag. I was not qualified to do the project I set out to do.”
Instead, Garlington decided he would have to work his way up like the chefs he was talking to had. So now Clandestino is putting on the dinners, and Garlington is helping out with the lowliest tasks from his new position as, he says, “kitchen bitch. There’s a 14-year-old kid who’s thrilled to death that I’ve replaced him at the bottom, and he’s my boss.”
He and Clandestino plan to do around 20 dinners through the end of the year and beyond, roughly every other week. At the end of it, Garlington hopes that his skills will be sufficient that he can go to phase two of the project, which is cooking with other chefs around the country— including at some of the classic restaurants which Price wrote about in the book and are still around.
But this is a 1960s cookbook, we say— aren’t the recipes full of frozen food and bad shortcuts? “Oh yeah, they’re terrible,” Garlington says. “We’re kind of restoring them to the original dishes at these fine restaurants— which was probably really the way Price cooked himself. Entertaining was everything to him, and at the heart of it was being able to cook. He was like Martha Stewart.” Down to the pendulum in the dungeon, we’re sure.
To see the schedule for the dinners and sign up, go to clandestinodining.org and look for listings for “convent dinners.”