September 28, 2006
Hidden Kitchen Surfaces

Dennis Kercher likes to cook and to entertain, but dinner parties can get expensive. This past spring he and his wife Mary also had an itch to expand their social circle. How were they to square these conflicting impulses?

Enter the Web. They created the Web site The Hidden Kitchen, a means to invite strangers into their Land Park home, cook them dinner, join their conversation, and have them help with the cost and the cleanup.

While they were inspired by news reports of underground chefs who set up de facto restaurants that skirt the usual regulations governing businesses, Kercher says he didn't establish The Hidden Kitchen as a commercial venture.

"It's not a restaurant. It's not a capital venture. It's about people coming together to have good food and great conversation in an intimate environment," says Kercher, whose day job involves frequent travel as a sales representative for "a large graphics company."

He comes from a baking family in Pennsylvania, but that kind of cooking didn't appeal to him. "I got out of that as quick as I could; it's brutal work."

Other kinds of cooking, however, he loves. He's taken cooking classes here and in Europe, but he's mostly self-taught. "I eat out a lot," he adds.

His culinary style isn't limited to any one cuisine, though he is somewhat keen on California and Italian kinds of cookery. At the Web site, his preliminary menu for upcoming dinners mentions tea-smoked duck breasts with plum applesauce and veal osso buco.

The site also suggests that diners contribute $40 toward the cost of the food, and bring their own beverage.

The couple's dinner parties, which they generally stage once or twice a month, haven't raised the ire of neighbors, says Kercher, probably because they usually involve just 8 or 10 people, probably because on any given Saturday night all sorts of other parties are under way in the neighborhood. "It’s a dinner party. We’re adults, we don’t hoot and howl," says Kercher.

It also probably hasn't hurt that residents of the immediate neighborhood also have signed on for the parties. "A few know each other but they don't all know each other," he says of the typical makeup of his guestlist.

Much as Kercher likes restaurants, he finds conversation in many of them thwarted by the ambient noise, thus another impetus to take matters into his own hands. "In half the restaurants today you can't hear yourself think. At the parties, conversation is so lively it's amazing," says Kercher.

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