Shhh! Inside the secret dining society "The Underground Kitchen"

Updated: Jul. 16, 2014 at 5:15 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - You may have heard of the Underground Kitchen, but few people have seen it. It's a secret dining society featuring exotic dinners by top chefs in decadent settings. And it's all on the hush-hush!

But we got an exclusive pass to take you inside.

Every detail is meticulously executed. The Underground Kitchen is a night for top chefs to push their limits.

"I like to be challenged," Ryan Baldwin said. Baldwin, executive chef at Richmond's Viceroy restaurant, volunteered to cook for the event. "I challenged myself a little bit," he said.

And everything is a surprise:  the setting, the wine, the six-course meal.

Baldwin described the menu. "There's going to be a nice Hamachi Ceviche, with some uni. There's also going to be smoked black velvet apricots," he said.

At the event, diner Renee Montague said, "I've heard wild boar is on the menu.  I'm curious about that!"

More than 1,500 foodies have registered on the UGK website. But each dinner has only 30 seats that sell out in two to three minutes.

"It's sort of like a concert ticket," Michael Sparks said. Sparks is one of the UGK organizers. "We release the tickets on a Friday at noon sometimes," he said.

Diner Kelly Fulk and her husband tried over and over to get two tickets while they were driving in Arizona the moment tickets were released. "We were frantically refreshing our phones to buy tickets and it worked out," she said.

Ann Vanichkachorn, diner and the evening's hostess, said, "Truth be told, three times now my fingers were too slow."

The Underground Kitchen holds a dinner once a month. The dinner we attended was held in Vanichkachorn's private home in Manakin Sabot. But each dinner features a different chef, in a different location, with a different theme.

Interior designer and UGK organizer Lia Lash said, "The dinner we're doing is at a very modern, Architectural Digest house. So we're doing something very sleek and Zen, down to the flowers, the tables, the place settings."

Other events have showcased the Yellow Umbrella, the Belmont Food Shop, and Magpie. You can see video of them at

"It's magical. It's places people have never been before. It's kind of cool," Sparks said. 

Guests say the best part is meeting their fellow foodies.

"Every time we come, we meet somebody different, somebody that we otherwise would never meet in Richmond," Vanichkachorn said.

It's all been organized by four unpaid friends -- Sparks, Lash, Heather Kauffman and Chris Hairston-White. Proceeds benefit charities such as FeedMore and Art 180.

"It's so important that we give back to the community, because we're all very fortunate individuals with opportunities and great jobs," Kauffman said.

When it's over, they all go back underground, planning in secret for the next month's fête to pop up.

Sparks says upcoming events will be held at an art gallery, in a park, and on an observation deck.

Dinners now cost $150 per person. But they also offer wine tasting events for $45. Diners must register on to be notified when tickets are available.

Organizers said local sponsors help to make Underground Kitchen happen, including The Fresh Market, Blackhand Coffee, FashionistaTea, and Carytown Teas.

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