Monday, August 27, 2012

The History of Cobaya

This month marks the 3rd anniversary of Cobaya.  What started as a conversation on a valet doorstep has ended up as three years of truly awesome "experiments".  I decided to take a look back at all of our past dinners, the recaps, the photos, and the attendee lists.  It was a mental meal remembering all my favorite dishes and the good conversation at the tables.  There were some spectacular highs, some tests (eating half a goat's head was one), and tons of really fun times.

Here's some stats compiled over three years so far:

Number of Cobaya experiments: 251
Number of diners served: 881
Average dinner size: 35
Number of "off campus" experiments: 9 (36%)
Number of outdoor Cobaya experiments: 4
Number of offal dishes: 25
Most courses: 22 (Cobaya Carmellini)
Number of wipeouts: 2 (Chef Galiano & Chowfather @ Cobaya Gras)
Number of injuries from wipeouts: 0 (thankfully)
Number of disclaimers added to Cobaya to protect from wipeouts: 1
Ratio of male/female Cobaya hosts: 22:4
Chefs hosting 2+ Cobayas: 4 (Bullfrog, Hales, Galiano, Jantz)

I really enjoyed looking back, re-reading just at Cobaya Central, reading the comments, thinking about the many, many, many highs and the very few not-so-highs. Just looking back on the response from each announcement was cool.  I loved sifting through all the attendee lists, watching Frod's meticulous attendee methodology adapt from meal to meal - the time stamps, the X-outs, the yellow highlighting, the transition from first-come-first-serve to the introduction of the current lottery system.  As time went on it got way easier to read and cut & paste into the main spreadsheet I created to gather history stats. It was cool seeing a few times when we really tried to max out attendance, if only to figure out that it didn't really work, at least in a formal environment. At more casual events, it totally worked and provided a chance to meet lots of new faces for great food and a lot of fun.  It's interesting to see how happy people are when enjoying great food, especially if it's in an unconventional way. 

It's awesome that this gig has formed friendships too.  Hell, we hardly knew each other when we first got this thing going.  The three of us send a TON of emails back and forth each month talking about Cobaya.  It's probably not healthy.  It was cool to think back on those emails back and forth.  All the ideas shared and either accepted or rejected always with the greater good of Cobaya in front of mind. We have stayed true to our core mission, tried different stuff, and always challenge each other with thoughts on how to make it better.  Any criticism received from others is valued whether positive or negative.  We've rejected media requests simply because we didn't want the publicity.  We wanted to keep this thing as "underground" (a term we use very loosely) as possible and let it grow organically.  I like to think we've succeeded at that.  We didn't mind when blurbs appeared on websites like UrbanDaddy or Eater as they were merely reports that echoed our announcements.  Looking through the archives I was also reminded of Frodnesor's spectacular beatdown of a post when another local food blog decided it would be fun to write a negative article about Cobaya dinners...only they had never dined at one before.  Of course, when an opportunity rose up to have Cobaya featured on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, we went with it.  You know what?  It was an over-the-top spectacular meal and one helluva night.
I think the concept makes it easy for chefs to enjoy being involved too. We have stayed away from the "we have a big group, give us a ton of food for next to no money" mentality.  Instead we work with the chef and give him full creative control to cook anything and everything.  At the end of the day, all the chefs that have participated in Cobaya are experts in their craft.  They aren't going to serve anything "bad". That, I am 100% confident of.  It's been fun watching how the chef participants have also evolved. Each has pushed the envelope in a different manner whether it be flavors, textures, cuts, science, simpleness, history.  They size up whats been done and how they can raise the bar.  And boy has that bar been raised!  I see chefs getting more people involved with Cobaya dinners now whether that be a somellier pairing wine, a bartender/mixologist creating cocktails, or a pastry chef plating multiple desserts.  There's always something new to be digested, mentally as well as physically.  I have always thought that the best takeaway, the one that separates Cobaya dinners from a regular coursed meal.  It is that knowledge, the ability to have a chef talk about why they've done what they've done and how they've done it. You can't put a price on that.

The Cobaya Bus has some serious tread on its tires
Lastly, there's the diners or "guinea pigs" themselves.  People come to a Cobaya dinner to have an interesting dining experience.  Discussion at the table ensues and covers what's liked and disliked, what a dish reminds them of, or what their favorite of the night is.  On top of the meal, most leave with additional info to use later, like a place to find great Korean BBQ or what spot has the best chicarrones.  They bring nice bottles of wine and share with others at the table, most of whom are total strangers.  Their common bond is the meal and things develop from there.  We've had people of all types at Cobaya dinners - lawyers, deckhands, medical professionals, bartenders, college students, even chefs and other industry folks in the Miami area.  We even had one person design the infamous Cobaya Bus pictured above!  The attendees all contribute to the fun at each event and their spirit is what keeps this whole thing going.  We are always humbled by the response when the next "experiment" is announced.

As this post is being typed up, the lottery for our next experiment is being conducted.  We'd love to see you at a future event.  To get involved, hit up our website aka Cobaya Central to learn more about becoming a guinea pig and then sign up to our Google Group to receive emails when each new experiment is announced.  From there you're an email for seat requests and a lucky ping pong ball away from joining us "underground".


1 Upon further review, we have decided that Paradigm Redux was not a true Cobaya and thus was eliminated from the ranks, leaving the count at 25.


Anonymous said...

"Ratio of male/female Cobaya hosts: 22:4" - - - Where are the women, Miami?

Unknown said...

Just today I wished there were some stats on the dinners. Tomorrow is my first time.... Excited is an understatement.

SteveBM said...

@Hafiza - Thanks, glad you enjoyed the stats. Tomorrow night is going to be a fantastic experience from the looks of it. glad to have you aboard!