This was supposed to be an article on the Daily Caller, but I guessed they deemed it not valuable enough…

“Underground” dinner parties – chefs welcoming guests in their houses and cooking for them for a fee – are becoming very sought-after. They moved across the Pacific from Hong Kong to California about 10 years ago and are highly in demand – over 100 operate in the U.S. according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, and places like Portland, OR, have an email list of over 15,000 names. The Washington Post reports that Hush Supper Clubs, which coordinates such events in the D.C. area, has an long waiting list of 300 people.

However, many other people have shown concern about their largely unregulated character, mostly out of health concerns – those home kitchen don’t have the same standards as restaurants and might not be as clean. Should governments step in and put on some rules?

“Although I haven’t read any article about dinners gone bad, the concern about food-born illnesses for secret dinner parties still exists,” says Sarah Schindler, professor at the University of Maine School Law and author of a paper about this emerging phenomenon. “For example, restaurants have stainless steel counters, which helps keeping bacteria away.”

However, she recognizes the value of those gatherings in an interview with TheDC. “Such parties let people eat food they might not have in a regular restaurant. Also, many of them favor local food and ingredients which is good for the economy.”

In order not to kill this emerging industry, Schindler suggests regulating these dinners somewhere between a regular and an occasional restaurant. “Putting regulations that are too strict would decrease participation and keep new chefs for emerging. However, we need to address the concerns of restaurants in the same way we did when food trucks emerged. With proper (and not-too-stiff) regulations, maybe restaurants will want to get into this occasional dinner business,” she believes.

Michael Cirino, who has been hosting such dinner parties for eigth years in New York City, partly agree with the law professor. “Just like ride-sharing services like Lyft, one has to be sure that there are safety standards. Although I haven’t heard of any health problems with dinner parties – I’ve never invited people without making sure everything was safe – there would be industry-wide repercussions should it happen,” he said in an interview with TheDC. He believes that the “social contract” between the chef and his clients is not enough.

And like Schindler, Cirino sees the social value of his services. “I’ve taken people out of their comfort zone with my food – many of them have also cooked with me. I introduce some fantasy that most restaurants wouldn’t be able to offer. It has also been a great occasion for socializing as my guests and I share our interests, which were very diverse.”

However, the New York City Health Department’s concerns over health trump any benefit they may bring – the city has a very large underground dinner scene. In a statement released for TheDC, they say that “it is impossible to determine whether the home kitchen meets the proper sanitary requirements, creating a potential health threat for diners. These requirements would include things like proper refrigeration and pest control, meaning there is no assurance that food is being safely stored and served.”

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