Friends, fun, drinks, home cookin’, and a little healthy competition; San Francisco’s Urban Dining League has a little of everything. Combining the components of a pub crawl and a food network competition, all while focusing on the use of local, sustainable food sources, the Urban Eating League (UEL) offers a progressive dinner party for anyone looking for good food and a unique experience.
The important question is, what is the UEL? The dinner party (or more like, dinner extravaganza) takes place roughly once a month, each one with a different overall theme. On the given date, there are five “host” sites within a 15-minute walking radius that open their doors to feed 10 enthusiastic teams of “eaters.” While typically the five locations are private apartments or houses, there have been UEL events, like the most recent “Wet Hot American Picnic” themed dinner, which have featured outdoor locations. There are three people in each team of eaters, and each team must come up with their own costume theme. This is taken quite seriously since the teams are then judged on their creativity and overall ridiculousness. The eaters then travel from site to site where they are welcomed with warm hospitality, amazingly fresh home-made food and cocktails, and fun and games. The hosts are then judged by all the eaters based upon four components: “flavor slam” (quality of food), hospitality, execution, and creativity.
The league’s founder, Morgan Fitzgibbons, came up with the concept behind UEL over a year ago and since then the rogue dinner party has taken off. The main idea behind the UEL is to promote the use of locally-sourced food in a sustainable and social way. All host teams must pledge to use 90% fresh and local ingredients. The UEL offers people a chance to show off their culinary skills and creativity while bringing friends and strangers together to break bread and share some laughs.
Although there are currently no cooking-ability qualifications for being a UEL host, there has yet to be any real lack of delicious food. In order to keep the price of tickets at an accessible $15-$20 range, hosts are given a pretty strict budget (about $80 each to serve five rounds of two or three courses), but that doesn’t seem to deter excellence. The teams of chefs take their role very seriously. ”We’ve had people do oysters, braised pork belly, bacon wrapped strawberries… the element of competition really ups the ante,” says Fitzgibbons, who along with his collaborator, Katherine Scherbel, organizes all UEL events. For a foraging-themed dinner some people even went crabbing to then offer an amazing crab salad to their guests. ”I’ve even ate some bugs that people foraged,” admits Fitzgibbons.
For anyone who is interested in jumpstarting an Urban Eating League in their own community, Fitzgibbons has created a detailed Urban Eating League Manual that offers rules and guidelines on how to organize one of these crazy, fun, progressive dinner parties. (Attention: Brooklyn. This has your name written all over it.)
Photos by Erin Conger