Zingara Cucina: we’ve all been conned

“Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one!”
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay 1841

During the Dutch tulip mania in the early seventeenth century the speculation in the bulbs went crazy. They became the most sought after and expensive objects in the world. There even became a futures market in tulips.
Last week I met one blogger who has a table for the Tempura Hajime in December. I suspect that Mama Ganoush is about to go the same way.
Such is the demand for tables in Melbourne

40 Responses to “Zingara Cucina: we’ve all been conned”

  1. Melbourne private investigator

    “Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one!”
    Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay 1841~~> this caught my attention..this just proves one theory that i’ve heard before..that people are really connected..there is some kind of invisible that connects us..^^..we’re just sending signals to each other without noticing it..how amazing is that!!

  2. Ed

    Ran,
    They got back to me and univited me which is becoming a trend. I posted on a couple of Facebok groups to see if anybody had been yet and there is no news. Interestingly Richard Cornish who writes for Epicure says he has been asking around and nobody has attended. It is really a con.

  3. Ran

    Did you ever get more information about this Ed? ie did they get back to you and try to convince you?

  4. stickyfingers

    Ed, I’ve done it. My guide to setting up your own Underground Restaurant Movement has been uploaded to my blog. I will post about Mama Ganoush later in the week.

  5. Ali-K

    Ah, aren’t we all cynics. It’s a wonderful thought and the romantic in me is out there dining in some multi-storey carpark right now. It makes me think of Lady and the Tramp, eating a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs in a laneway behind a restaurant. Hang on a minute, you’re right Ed, with such amazing dining culture in Melbourne we can do that anyway. The realist in me agrees that I cannot accept this concept until I have, say, 2 degrees of separation, ’cause then I might only be one dinner away from an invite ;-)

  6. the Gobbler

    Are they serious about the not for profit line? I bet though it would be difficult to get another refferal if you hadn’t offered to contribute to the ‘ingredients’ only!
    It all sounded alluring until I got to the word ‘Pucini’. This may be an ingredient that I am unfamiliar with. Did they mean Porcini, I’m sure, they didn’t mean to mix a mushroom with an Italian composer. However if it was just a simple typo on their altruistic mission statement which is intended to leverage from their supposed heritage of Italian cooking, then to me it seriously questions their credibility.

  7. Sarah

    This has been going on in the US for a few years, nothing new.

    Has anyone ever bothered to try and make a booking? There seems to be an automated response that pretty much tells you exactly what it is. I think your article is well researched Ed, but I dont think they are claiming to be anything much more than a dinner party? This is what you get as a reply.

    —–Original Message—–
    From: bookings@zingaracucina.com [mailto:info@zingaracucina.com]
    Sent: 18 September 2007 11:47
    To: Brett Sims
    Subject: Re: Waiting list?

    Salve!,
    This is an Automated Email – However, please do take the time to read through it, as it may answer some of your questions.

    Why am I receiving an automated email?
    We can only be honest with you, and state; that unfortunately due to the massive demand for a seat at Zingara Cucina; it is simply not possible to respond to every email in a reasonable amount of time. Hence, we aim to try and answer some of your queries through the following list of FAQ’s, to expediate the process.

    What is Zingara Cucina?
    Very good question. We’re a roaming supper club, a dinner party with strangers as guests, a restaurant with out a location, a gypsy kitchen; call us what you will – we seem to have been branded many names.

    To us, we are just a group of friends (and friends of friends); whom get together regularly to enjoy good food, good wine & good times.

    Where do you operate from?
    Our imagination (pretty much!), and an Apple Macbook Pro. Zingara Cucina, does not have a mailing address, a telephone number or a permanent location. We roam. From laneways, apartments, parks, galleries & rooftops. We dine, wherever we logistically can; enjoying the food that our ancestors have passed down, from generation; to generation.

    What is so special about Zingara Cucina?
    We can’t really answer that question..? To us, it is lovely to break bread with people of similar ilk. Those who appreciate all of the aforementioned. The taste of a perfect basil infused suggo, or the pungent aroma of a alba white truffle. Regardless, for us; it is first about food & conviviality. We try to recreate that great feeling, after a good meal; and a great conversation.

    How do I obtain a booking?
    Well, firstly; we are not really a restaurant. So although we call it a booking; it is more of a referral. You must be referred by a friend, who will vouch for you. We do this, to maintain a network of people with likeminded interests.

    The referral system, can not be deviated; regardless of your self-imposed celebrity status. Unfortunately, this isn’t about fame for anyone, but for the farmers, the growers & the producers – who provide us with the beautiful products that we serve at our dinner table. They deserve the kudos, not us.

    What if I can’t find a referral?
    Unfortunately, we can’t assist. It saddens us a tad, that the concept has grown so much; that we cant enjoy the company of all whom would like to attend. But again, regardless of what the media may publish – we are a small, intimate event – more of a dinner party, than a restaurant; hence, it is imperative that we maintain our standards. We do apologise in advance.

    How much does it cost to dine at Zingara Cucina?
    We don’t charge. However, if you feel that you would like to contribute to the cost of the ‘ingredients’ only, then feel free to do so on the night. You will not receive a bill & there is no mention of money. Our waiters do not expect, nor accept tips. If you don’t want to chip in; then we sincerely do not mind. You are our guest, not our customer. It is imperative that you understand this – as regardless of your socio-economic status, if you are referred to us; then we would love to have you at our dinner table.

    What, do you mean we can come along for a free fine-dining feed; if we are referred?
    Absolutely. Nobody will know whether you contributed to the cost of the evening or not, nor will anyone care. We do this for the love of what we do, nor for profits.

    How can I work with you guys? I am a sommelier, I can sing, dance or play the harmonica? Can I help?
    Indeed, we’d like to hear from you: collaborate@zingaracucina.com

    What about food safety? What if I get sick? Do you prepare foods correctly?.
    Although we may dine in obscure locations, we’re not silly. All consumables are prepared in either approved kitchens, or under impeccable conditions. We are extremely particular when it comes to food safety; the last thing we would want is a negative experience for anyone involved.

    Who is the chef? And who is behind this?
    Unfortunately, we sincerely do not want anyone to know who we are. We do this for the love of it; not for fame, not for profits. Come and enjoy an evening with us, and you will soon understand what it is we are attempting to create.

    The chef (if you can call him that), isn’t really a chef. More of a cook. He learnt his skills at home, at the hand of his grandmother & mother. His attention to detail, and commitment to the freshest and finest ingredients is bar none.

    Isn’t this illegal?.
    Hmm.. Good question. We don’t believe it is illegal to have dinner parties with your friends? Go on a picnic; or enjoy a good glass of wine together?.

    For those of you that are in the know, this has been going on for years. And although we may have formalised the concept, by building a website & giving it a name; families, friends & groups – have been doing this for decades. This is nothing new, nor do we claim that it is; we’re just willing to share it.

    What type of food do you serve?
    We like to call it modern-casalinga. Which really doesn’t make any sense. As the term casalinga, refers to home cooked, traditional Italian meals. I guess you could say, it is our take; on all the beautiful recipees that have been handed down through the generations. Some we wouldn’t dare change, and others deserve to be enhanced.

    Regardless, we love the food we produce – and we hope you do too.

    If you don’t advertise, and do not want bookings, why do you have a website?.
    Have you had to answer several hundred telephone calls in an afternoon, every day; from people whom want to come and try your pucini & parmigiano risotto? We have the website, as it is a much easier way for us to communicate with all of our guests. We don’t need to explain the benefits of email in this small FAQ, but ultimately; it comes down to convenience, as during the day; we all work in other professions.

    Screw you guys if I can’t get a seat, I’ll start my own!?
    Absolutely! And we hope you do.. And if you need any help in doing so, be sure to let us know.. All we suggest, is to try and buy all your produce locally; support Australian food & wine – and have a ton of fun!

    Don’t hesitate to contact us if you need help, we’d love to attend one of your private dinner parties! :D Maybe we can swap referrals? ;)

    Grazie mille tante… E’ Boun Appetito!!

    Zingara Cucina

  8. leena!

    Great post, Ed. I truly appreciate the work and research you put into your posts. Its helping build a more credible reputation for food blogs everywhere.

    Chicago had something like this, underground dining, run by a few chefs who worked at (supposedly) the top restaurants in the city, and who wanted to cook what they want for others without going through the hassles of opening a restaurant. But I had to read about it in a popular weekly paper, which does make you wonder…despite wanting to remain anonymous, I gather these places need a random article here or there to survive. And from your research, it sounds like Zingara is going too far.

  9. Ed

    To sum up:
    We’ve got an underground restaurant rolled up with the Blair Witch project with people driving around the M25 orbital waiting for an invitation in. Meanwhile, the DC has an underground menu concept designer and some cool pics on Flickr. The Stickster fucks up by mentioning underground dining and Buddhism into the same paragraph while I nurse my hangover and wonder how I ordered 7 dozen Oysters last night.

    Meh taunts us with the real identity of the Pikey chef and I hope for an email revealing all…

  10. Andy

    you have to see the lighter side lol they should probably stick to marketing haha what a great job.. This is no different to the Blair Witch campaign, bekons the question though.. what is it all for?

  11. Andrew

    OK Ed…Buddhism has been mentioned and linked to Underground restaurants…now you really have to intervene…I can’t take it much longer.

    Must…keep…mouth…closed.

  12. stickyfingers

    I think the Dissident Chef’s food snaps look quite tasty.

    The bottom line is that it is within all of us to desire what is apparently unattainable, and it makes us gullible to certain ploys. If over the long term the protagonist over milks the promise, they will engender skepticism and criticism. But, if you can rise above your desire for the aspirational, you will find a new appreciation for what is already in your lap and hence, further contentment. This is one of the fundamental concepts in Buddhism.

  13. Jack

    Ed you have to intervene, there is a lot a gobbly-goop people are posting on your site.
    The Dissendant chef has to be a fraud, just from a glance at the link to his site and its obvious, he can’t even spell the name of one of his mentors Paul Bocuse. What a load of ….
    Jack

  14. the Gobbler

    Interesting but hardly surprising that this form of marketing should find its way into the mainstream. Think back to the ‘Orbital’ parties of greater London in in the late eighties. Subscribers were given a location by phone at the last minute whilst in a bus then driven to the party. Surprise, secrets & exclusivity. This all fuelled the next event which became bigger than the last etc until finally the concept had filtered down to the mainstream & eventually lost its currency.
    I’m with the Ed & believe that this is all about ‘aren’t I clever marketing’. Its Demedenko writ large. Perhaps the only redeemening merit of the excercise is to see how many ‘old media’ types they can suck in?

  15. Jessie

    In the context of your post, and after looking back at the website (which comes up number 4 on a google search of Zingara), this does sound more like a tupperware party than an underground restaurant:

    Communal dining.
    Community dining. Same same.
    ZINGARA Cucina is a wandering supperclub, a nomadic restaurant, a unique & alternative dining experience. It is a dinner party amongst friends you don’t know. It is also a collaboration that relies on an entire team of specially trained professionals who create the experience out of passion; rather than profits. Chefs, hosts, performers & guests alike; ZINGARA Cucina is a collaborative event..

    Every function is a singular experience made unique by its guests, menu,, location & chef. If you would like to get in the mix, have a product you would like to showcase, or just a case of wine you would like to send our way feel free to send us an email: collaborate@zingaracucina.com.

    “product you would like to showcase” indeed.

  16. Meh

    I would just like to write a little comment to someone that I know will be reading these comments!
    I think you should grow some balls and let everyone know who is really behind your so called restaurant as it is not fair for the person named to take the fall!!

  17. Dissident Chef

    Ed,
    sorry we never got the chance to talk live, lets try again…
    This is why you have to come to SF for a real underground experience…
    Let it be known, there are many reasons and motivations behind the mystique of a UR… Not all are for the obvious reasons.. Great detective work.
    DC

  18. Jess

    Ed,
    Disillusionment is great. I feel like Holly Martins in The Third Man, but with food. Perhaps a bad comparison, but just imagine that zither theme playing over your post.

  19. elegantgourmand

    That’s what zingara’s do, Ed. They are scammers. We should have read between the lines :)

  20. Andrew

    Damn…does this mean there will be no underground Ortiz anchovies either?

    Anyway, to me, the reason for underground restaurants is to avoid authorities eyes, dodge taxes, food laws, etc. Certainly not on a large scale. Anything else is probably just a private party…or a pretentious club.

    I don’t think Zingara truly was positioned as a Scofflaw, but obviously was trying to build some mystery & exclusivity. Any “cause” is a bit of a stretch and a giveaway.

    Ed, I think you pinned it in your last few sentences.

    Most people just go out for a picnic with friends :) Maybe Zingara Cucina is just a picnic outsourcing firm?

  21. Thanh

    Ed, when I first read the article in The Age, I thought that it didn’t sound real. It sounded a lot like a PR stunt to my cynical mind. If it was truly an underground movement and they didn’t want media attention and just to do food properly, why talk with all these media outlets.

    I also got an email last week from someone asking if they could get a recommendation to this place. I wonder if that’s just all part of the PR stunt.

    I mean, look at the Lonelygirl15 Youtube videos. How clever were those guys. Take an actress, script a story about her life and fool everyone into believing that it’s all real. I think they belonged to a viral promotions company or something.

    I would rather pay my good money to a good restaurant and enjoy my meal there knowing that the chef will produce some good quality dishes.

  22. Jack

    Hey Ed, nice detective work.
    I am now totally convinced that this is a fraud, I was always a bit suspicious… Advertising a restaurant is REALLY hard work unless you have a huge brand behind you, so the concept of an ‘underground’ restaurant just didn’t make sense to me in a practical manner.
    I also haven’t heard anyone around the ‘hospitality traps’ talking about this place, its always the restaurant people that know whats going on, as someone knows someone, who is working there etc. A couple of people who I had mentioned this to actually laughed out loud at the idea of a restaurant that hides from contact (unless you are the media that is!) to customers.
    Goldie, the only reason the media is interested is because they are getting the run around, people generally are not interested in these types of things as the predictable factor is lost (the reason, food guides etc are so popular), which is the main factor for 95% of diners, and the small 5 % it may appeal to, could not care less about chasing a referal…they will just go where ever they please.

    I guess the point is, there really is no hype??
    Jack

  23. Anna

    Good post and a great read. If it really is all just a hoax them I’m really disappointed, I liked the idea. Ah well, I’ll stick with the other fabulous places to eat out and about in Melbourne.

  24. Goldie

    Wow that’s some fantastic detective work there Ed.

    It definately sounds like a marketing ploy I mean come on – why converse (no disrespect) with a journalist such as yourself and expect it to be kept ‘off the record’ – I’m a marketer and it’s pretty much drilled into you never to talk to journalists and expect anything to be kept in confidence. You said they also mentioned that a Current Affair & Stateline has footage – hardly the thing to do if you’re wanting to keep something a secret.

    What do you think the motive is? To get the ad agency recognition for generating so much hype and PR?

    Perhaps restaurants should sit up and take notice of all the hype this has generated and develop more of their own VIP dinners or host invite only dinners and lunches at various ‘secret’ locations – wineries, the botanical gardens, hanging rock etc.

  25. Steve Kirk

    LMAO – great post Ed. It would be interesting to know how they get on importing the truffles though – an ambitious exercise in small quantities at the best of times.

  26. Ed

    Everybody dinner parties it is with an open door for all and sundry.

    Virginifer I think I said above: “Indeed, I even mooted creating my own underground experience but it seems a bit pointless with the amazing dining culture that already exists in Melbourne…”

    Stickyfingers, I’ll be there for Ferran but only if he promises not to produce any of yesteryears foams.

  27. stickyfingers

    Bravo! Like progressive dinners ‘Underground’ is so ’90′s – LOL! Switch off the spin cycle people and come up with a new concept.

    On a more serious note, in my working life it has been necessary to predict the coming zeitgeist. The notion of a privileged few enjoying a unique dining experience has long since graduated from my ’200lb Muffin Club’ extravaganzas, into the mainstream via Marketing Loyalty Programs. ‘Money can’t buy’ experiences are now part of what drives sales to hard to reach niche market consumers. In fact an invitation only dinner created by Ferran Adria in an exotic Australian location could be on offer next year to a moneyed elite.

  28. KLS

    Ha! Great to see other cynics around — I posted a similar grip on my website (which isn’t a foodie site, just my musings).

    Sells newspapers (and/or online advertising)!

  29. Ran

    Thats almost a bit dissapointing, i liked the idea of it.

    Maybe I should just throw a dinner party instead