MOST RECENT DINNERS
Back in the winter of 2006, we—Ben and Curtiss—organized a little dinner at a Malaysian joint in Chinatown. We coaxed a few folks along, with the idea that we’d like to create a venue to taste the strange and authentic foods found on menus around this city.
The idea behind the club wasn’t to eat Fear Factor stuff, but to get people away from solely eating foods they were comfortable with; we figured having friends along would amortize the awkwardness. By way of background, Curtiss grew up in Austria/Germany/Italy, and Ben in Brazil/ Australia/Thailand, so we were both accustomed to nasty bits and odd foods. We had six folks along that first night, but soldiered on, hosting a dinner each month. We tried to keep it pretty quiet, taking in only friends and their friends, and shooing away media inquiries, but it grew and grew.
Today, our little club has expanded to roughly 1300 people, with a second chapter in Los Angeles. We receive international and domestic press requests on weekly basis, and new applications every day. Without exaggeration, we’re by far the biggest dining club of this sort in the world. Our monthly dinners have an average of 70+ people (and a long wait list) which allows us to create custom, adventurous menus with chefs and restaurants. Take a look through the website for a glimpse at what we’ve had of late.
Curtiss grew up abroad in Germany, Italy, and Austria, before coming to the U.S. to go to college. His mother was a concert violinist and his father an opera singer and they seemed to get along best when cooking elaborate and obscure meals. One of his earliest memories from his time in Germany is that of his father emerging into the garden, rifle slung over his shoulder, carrying eight, limp rabbits. This, of course, was followed by four days of rabbit livers, hearts, and brains for dinner, as eight pelts dried on his balcony. He still doesn’t know what became of the fur hat. Curtiss strongly believes that boring food is boring and perpetually craves new tastes and experiences. Curtiss will eat anything – bugs, Balut (Filipino fertilized duck egg), even broccoli. This is why he founded Gastronauts: There’s amazing food available all around – it’s just hard for most people to find. When he’s not hunting nutria, finding yak meat, or guinea pig for Gastronauts, he’s an art director for print and interactive in NYC.
Ben’s never met a food he doesn’t like. (Well, that’s not entirely true – big bugs, like the one he had for breakfast once in Northern Laos – aren’t really his thing.) But he’s eaten them and he’s game for trying anything. Ben was born but not raised in New York; He grew up overseas in Brazil, Australia, and Thailand, picking avocados from the tree in his parents’ backyard in Sao Paolo and eating street food on the back of a motorcycle taxi in Bangkok. These formative experiences turned him onto the weird and wonderful cuisines of the world, and though his family dragged his brother and him back into the culinary wilderness of Connecticut when he was 12, he’s made it a point to travel as much as his day job will allow, jetting off to Italy, China, and Senegal most recently. As for his day job, he’s a writer and the senior editor of Foreign Policy magazine. Yes, it sounds wonky, but it’s really not. He’s done a bunch of foreign-correspondent type stuff (hitting the casinos in Cambodia, buying AK-47s in Congo) but wherever he goes, he’s eating what the locals eat, always finding the best local joints, talking to people about recipes, and usually smuggling some weird canned food back for Curtiss to taste.
Dan was born in Seoul, moved to Kampala, Uganda, then back to Seoul, back to Uganda, then to suburbs of Kansas City before landing in NYC on Halloween, 2005. As a child, he was obsessed with spicy foods. While ice skating at an outdoor rink in Seoul in the dead of winter, he bought dduk bok ki (spicy rice cakes) from a street-cart vendor and ate it by a steel-drum fire pit. He was so consumed by its spiciness that he didn’t notice that his new nylon winter coat was melting from the heat. By the time he finished the dish, the plastic zipper and the bottom half of the jacket had melded into a blob. Food became an obsession while living in NYC. He dines out nearly every night and lives by a personal rule to try at least 100 new restaurants each year. Not counting repeats, he has dined at over 500 restaurants in the city so far. Dan loves making pasta and gnocchi from scratch though he’s a terrible baker. When there’s no fork in his hand, he works as a creative director at a large agency and can always be spotted with a proper camera for the occasion.
Helen Springut runs the Los Angeles Gastronauts. She’s very busy at the moment and will update her bio very soon.