Who We Are
We are Cornell Underground—a group of 8 like-minded students together because of our passion for gastronomy, design, and art.
What We Do
Each semester we create a type of relational art: a dinner installation. Through the medium of our dinner installations, we invite guests to explore life- with a strong emphasis on the arts, and each other.
Dinner installations utilize design, food, and music to excite the senses, and provoke a new type of art revolving around social interaction, also known as “situational art.” The art pieces are not the dinner themselves; rather the dinner is a catalyst for social interaction, which in turn constitutes the piece. These works are inherently authorless, engendering our desire to remain anonymous.
Why We Do It
The inception of Underground stems from a void we feel exists in our classrooms. We do not see an opportunity to collaborate with students in different fields to practice our craft at the highest possible level with ultimate creative freedom.
We created Underground to bring together members of the Cornell community--students, alumni and professors, to connect with students in wildly different fields, to uphold Cornell's traditions, and to fulfill our dreams.
Upon creating our first dinner installation, we realized how important we are to each other. In coming together we realize Underground’s importance because of what it enables us to learn, create, and achieve.
DINNER INSTALLATION #1: NOVEMBER 22, 2009
Mystified guests meet in the heart of Collegetown, knowing only to be ready for a private dinner. A grand limo pulls up, guests slide in, and are transported to the secret dinner location.
Upon arrival, guests are escorted into a 1950’s wood paneled library. In front of them they see a smooth cedar log candelabra suspended from the ceiling, hanging over a wood table set for twenty. The menus, etched into wood panels, are propped on hand-sewn napkins in front of each guest. A series of six champagne glasses arc above antique silverware collected by our families.
The meal commences with an amuse of a French Kiss-a prune marinated in Armagnac and stuffed with foiegras and a Gascon Sushi- prosciutto rolled around truffle mousse of foiegras. Then proceeds with Quenelles de Palombes - wood pigeon meatballs in velouté sauce, Fall Gargouillou - a collection of vegetables with potato puree, spiced orange consommé. The main course was a Wagyu Beef Tenderloin with puff pastry and onion royale, followed by a palate cleanser of Mastic Taffy and its Flavors- orange, lemon, lavender, and rose. The dinner ended with, Chrysalid, a chocolate dessert accented with apricot.
FLAVOR TRIPPING: MARCH 28, 2009
Four hundred students and faculty members “Flavor Trip” together in Risley Hall. We hand each individual a miracle berry (also known as SynsepalumDulcificum) and give precise directions for the berry to have full effect in transforming their taste buds. Masked butlers, goofy green creatures, and pinup cocktail waitresses escort guests though a series of three rooms designed to complement the cuisine with the atmosphere by pairing appropriate art forms, music and designs with specific foods.
Strawberries fly, scantily clad bartenders serve Tabasco shots, mouths bite into whole limes, delicate tartlets swoop on silver platters, mountains of warheads slosh in mouths, pineapple and ginger skewers glow in black lights.
MENTORSHIP DINNER INSTALLATION: MAY 5, 2009
If you want to make apple pie from scratch you must first create the universe.
Carl Sagan Academy and Underground come together for one dinner installation due to our shared commitment and belief in mentorship, exploration, and learning as a vital part of life. All proceeds go to the Carl Sagan Academy, which provides a comprehensive educational program that supports, encourages, and nurtures children and their families in Florida to increase their options and opportunities to participate more fully in society.
Two services are set over a waterfall, under the stars. Mentored by a master chef, six Cornell students work on six separate courses to create one dish to be served to forty guests. The master chefs making this mentoring opportunity possible, and celebrating mentorship, exploration, and learning with us are Daniel Boulud, Eric Ripert, Anthony Bourdain, Drew Nieporent, Rick Tramonto, and Francois Payard.
Mysterious Student Group Throws Stellar Soiree
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December 2, 2008 - 12:00am
By Greg Bodenlos
Saturday, November 22. Six p.m. On an evening that felt arctic — even by Ithaca standards — I anxiously stood huddled near the bus stop in Collegetown with a small gathering of Cornell University associates, waiting for my Cornell Underground Dinner Series experience to begin. What experience, you ask? This was unknown, as I stood that evening with very little knowledge about what the Underground night would bring.
There was a very palpable word-of-mouth buzz spreading around the School of Hotel Administration about this secretive event, yet few seemed to have any idea about where the event would be held or who was even behind the evening’s festivities. All the attendees were told beforehand they were to expect the finest combination of food, music and design. The rest was left up to our imaginations.
Sure, I was a bit skeptical of this premise. How could a group of shadowy hotel, architecture, and design students ever manage to live up to the lofty promises of the highest service, aesthetic design and culinary mastery? Yet, as this very thought entered my mind, a gleaming white limo elegantly pulled up to the curb. My colleagues and I gleefully entered this first-class haven of warmth — which would be the night’s mode of transport — and my cynicism melted away to enthusiasm; I knew I was in for a special evening.
As we arrived at our destination — which I will not reveal, as this was an event veiled in secrecy — we were met by an intimate dining room amorously adorned with delicate candlelight and soothing jazz rhythms. Throughout the evening, there was a wonderful diversity of sounds, each rhythm perfectly suiting the course that was being served.
Though I fully intend to celebrate the uniqueness of this event –— this collaboration of gastronomy, architecture and design was the first of its kind and the Underground’s main focus — I cannot help but first focus on the evening’s exceptional cuisine. The menu — which was executed by a team of hotel students — was superbly inspired.
The dinner consisted of seven impeccably innovative dishes, all served with the finest attention to detail and care. The meal for 20 began with a dual plating of dishes referred to as Gasoon sushi and French kiss — both offered a variation on foiegras accompanied by succulent truffles and prunes. Though minute in portion size, they were full of flavor. The wine pairings for the evening, compliments of the luxurious, Paris-based Champagne House Nicolas Feuillatte, were lovely accompaniments to the palate.
Once I got over the irksome idea that pigeon could be edible, the quenelles de palombes (wood pigeon in veloute sauce) was delicately delicious. The subsequent courses — a fall collection of vegetables with potato puree, as well as wagyu beef tenderloin with puff pastry and onion royale — were the pinnacles of the experience, fantastic contrasts of subtlety and robustness. The final courses of the dinner — a precursory palate of sugary fruitful flavors called mastic, as well as a decadent chocolate dessert called chysalid — made the finale quite satiating.
This night, however, was not merely an evening of culinary quality. On the contrary, the experience really stood out because it so effortlessly fused intriguing architecture and design elements. First, the table’s centerpiece, fashioned by the Underground’s architecture students, was a masterful transformation of a piece of disfigured driftwood — found at the bottom of the gorges — into a smoothly sculpted showpiece of elucidation.
The menu itself, created by design students, was striking not only for its interesting bass-wood texture, but for the intricate stenciling of the menu items into the piece of wood.
So, what exactly is the Underground and how do you become a member? The answer is still shrouded in mystery — especially to the Cornell community at large — except for the fact that they are a group marked by magnificent paradox. Although they are not officially recognized by the university, they are a highly structured organization, who apparently gather weekly for meetings and receive energetically engaged participation from their members. In order to make in-roads with this group, you “gotta know somebody who knows somebody,” according to one of my fellow diners.
Nevertheless, if this dinner as any indication of the Underground’s caliber, I would strongly encourage you to seek out more knowledge about this organization. Not only does the Underground truly understand hospitality at its best, but they also have the spirit, willingness and desire to serve and entertain others. I anticipate that there is much more in store from this group. I, for one, cannot wait.
A Flavorful Flight of Fancy
"Flavor Tripping" Disappoints the Taste Buds But Excites the Imagination
March 30, 2009 - 12:00am
By Julie Fulop
While doing some research on the “magic berry,” I read an article in The New York Times called the “The Tiny Fruit that Tricks the Tongue.” The authors Patrick Farrel and Kassie Bracken stated that one woman claimed Tabasco sauce tasted just like doughnut glaze after eating the small fruit. Excited about this remarkable story, I went to the “Flavor Tripping” event anticipating an eccentric night of wild taste testing. I was anxious to experience the effects of this berry for myself, hoping to walk away with a novel taste-altering experience I could boast about to my friends and family back home. Yet, to my utter disappointment, I must sadly admit that there can be no boasting over this berry. In fact, the only real boasting can be given to the overall impressive set-up of the event. I can’t claim to have left the event flavor tripping, but I did leave feeling trippy from the general ambiance of Risley Hall.
The true main attraction of the event, the berry itself, simply fell short of its hyped-up expectations. This supposed miracle fruit, scientifically known as synsepalumdulcificum, originated in West Africa, and is currently cultivated in numerous locations all over the world. It reconfigures the way our taste buds interpret food by changing sour flavors to sweet for up to an hour, depending on the individual. The process works due to a protein called miraculin that induces sweetness when in contact with acidic foods. So, as the servers at Risley suggested, the berry’s sweetening effect will be enhanced to its fullest extent with naturally acidic citrus fruits.
From the very start, it was clear that Cornell Underground, which sponsored “Flavor Tripping”, wanted this exotic event to be an unusual experience for all attendees. The event occurred Saturday night at Risley from 7:30 pm-12:30 am and lasted about half an hour for each group of 15 that entered. While people stood in line awaiting this “magical berry,” servers dressed in bizarre ensembles gave people various fruits to taste including limes, lemons, grapefruit and blood oranges. This was done so tasters could compare the natural, pre-berry experience of these fruits to the later effect with the berry.
Upon entering the first room, each taster was given a cold berry and told to swirl it around the mouth for 30 seconds to a minute without biting down on the inner seed. The instructor explained how the berries are highly perishable and must be frozen up until 15 minutes prior to consumption. Additionally, I learned of other common uses for the berry other than “flavor tripping” parties. In a more practical manner, the berry is frequently given to cancer patients to allow them to retain sweet tastes as they lose their taste buds. Also, it is particularly popular among diabetics who want to still have the experience of indulging in sweet foods while avoiding high levels of sugar.
Simply on its own, the berry tasted sweet, but was nothing extraordinary to eat for its own innate pleasure. The real test of the berry began minutes later as we were led off to the side by mysterious servers dressed in all black with masks. They walked around offering a variety of fruits to taste and at first, while tasting a kiwi, I felt absolutely no effect. After that, I tried both a lemon and a grapefruit, which each tasted especially sweet.
Entering the next room, I was dazzled by its luminous décor and creative display of foods. It was like a scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, as lollipops and strawberries hung from the walls and bowls of sour candy lined the room. More servers, donned in polka-dotted dresses and psychedelic vests, walked around handing out sugared paper and other unlikely foods. In one corner of the room was the bar that offered a range of Tabasco, A1 and other sauces to try. Holding multiple foods in her hand, my friend commented, “I can’t believe right now I’m eating a lollipop and drinking A1 sauce interchangeably. Who would ever do this?” The truth of the matter is the whole concept was rather stomach-turning.
In the final room, decorated chicly in black and white, we were each given lemon tarts as we walked in. This was the favorite food I ate, but I couldn’t deduce whether I simply enjoyed the tart on its own or the berry had actually enhanced its overall effect. There was also a variety of vinegars to try, which all seemed to taste exactly the same as normal vinegar. Overall, the berry’s power only seemed to work with any semi-potent effect on the fruits.
The six founders of Cornell Underground, who choose to remain incognito, began their club last semester, aiming to provide Cornell with events that will change students’ perception of dining and the way in which they experience food. The Cornell Underground hopes to elicit a sensory dining experience by intermingling unique foods with matching architectural design, music and environment. As one of the anonymous founders explained, “This food tonight is not meant for sustenance purposes or to make you full; rather, we want to show how dining can be an art form.” He explained how the club achieved the goal of complementing the cuisine with the atmosphere by pairing appropriate art forms, music and designs with specific foods in their prior dinner series event last semester. They hoped to achieve a similar effect at “Flavor Tripping.”
“Flavor Tripping” ultimately left many eager taste-testers not wholly satisfied. To my knowledge, not one person tasted the Tabasco sauce and leapt for joy proclaiming it to be as sweet as icing. Nevertheless, many people left highly fascinated and intrigued by the sensational atmosphere Cornell Underground managed to create. The ambiance and combination of unique décor, interesting food presentation and unusual music were reason enough to attend. I for one was visually entertained throughout the evening by the mixture of vibrant and opaque colors, bizarre designs and funky outfits.
By the end of the night I don’t quite believe I was “flavor tripping,” since my taste buds seemed perfectly in order. Yet, somehow I did feel slightly different. “Is it really safe to drive now?” asked my friend as we left Risley. Strangely, we both had to ponder this for a second. As my gullibility wore off, I realized we were just “trippy” from the bizarre atmosphere of the event. Perhaps as the magic berry gains popularity (and if I am fortunate enough to attend another “flavor tripping party”) I’ll get to experience the real deal. If luck comes my way, hopefully, one day you’ll see me throwing back Tabasco sauce and actually enjoying it. Who knows?