Long Island dining-out group Dead Chefs Society explores local restaurants
Josh Jaycoff and Adam Gotterer are old friends who love nothing more than immersing themselves in the gastronomic experience — not only eating, but understanding a cuisine’s cultural and historical underpinnings. One night, they and their wives were enjoying a meal at the modern-Indian-bistro-Neapolitan pizzeria, The Onion Tree in Sea Cliff, and they wondered if there might be an appetite for a Long Island equivalent to the Gastronauts, the New York City “club for adventurous eaters.” “We were both members when we lived in the city,” Jaycoff said. “And we wanted to do something like that out here.”
That dinner, last February, marked the beginning of the Dead Chefs Society, a movable monthly feast that attracts a growing following of curious gourmands.
Jaycoff, 38, of Melville, and Gotterer, 39, of Port Washington, floated the idea to some friends and the society held its official first dinner, at the Lebanese restaurant Beit Zaytoon in West Hempstead. There were 13 in attendance, all of them friends of the founders, enjoying lamb tartare and chicken livers in pomegranate sauce, among the dishes suggested by the owner, Elias Ghafary.
For the next few months, Jaycoff said, “the dinners were all made up of friends or friends of friends.” They ate pork-blood stew, grilled pork belly and other Korean dishes at Spoonsticks in Massapequa and had a traditional Kamayan — communal feast eaten with bare hands off banana leaves — at the Filipino restaurant Kusinera in East Meadow.
The September meeting was to be a celebration of Cantonese dumplings and roast meats at Long Island Pekin in Babylon but the restaurant’s owner, Jason Lee, required a minimum of 50 diners. “We were scared that we wouldn’t get enough people," Jaycoff recalled, “so we posted in two Facebook groups. And we sold out — we more than sold out, we had to cut it off at 50.”
From then on, attendance has been limited by the capacity of the restaurant: The last two dinners — Japanese izakaya at Bakuto in Lindenhurst and a vegetarian Indian banquet at Mithaas in Hicksville — both sold out at about 60 diners.
The cuisines change, but the setup is the same: Jaycoff, Gotterer and the chef come up with a menu — anywhere from 10 to 15 dishes — with an emphasis on items that the first-time diner might not order. The price is between $70 to $100 and usually includes a drink or two, but after that it’s a cash bar or, when the restaurant doesn’t serve alcohol, it’s BYOB.
The society dinners are a win-win for the restaurateurs since they are held early in the week when many dining rooms are nearly empty and guarantee thousands of dollars in sales. Better yet, they develop a new clientele. Josh Goldstein, 44, of Port Washington was so taken with the barbecued short ribs at Spoonsticks that he has been back several times with his family. Goldstein, who prides himself on having attended every single gathering, said, “I love to eat and I love to gather with people. I told myself that, after COVID, I’d never say no to any dinner invitation again.”
Matt Harris, 39, of Bellmore enjoys the social aspect, but he also savored the opportunity to “get a whole variety of dishes instead of just the one or two you’d order on your own.”
John Lonigro, 57, of West Islip, a self-proclaimed foodie, found the group on Instagram and came to his first meeting, at Beit Zaytoon, without knowing a soul. “Honestly,” he said, “they had me at the name.”
Jaycoff said that “Dead Chefs Society” was chosen for three reasons. First, he explained, “Our patron saint is Anthony Bourdain. We try to honor his ethos of exploring the world through food.” Second, that name “was a lot better than our first idea: The Dinner Club.”
Third, of course, there’s Peter Weir’s 1989 film, “Dead Poets Society” whose titular club is dedicated not only to self discovery and freedom from norms but whose meetings traditionally began with the quote from Thoreau’s “Walden,” “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”
The next meeting of Dead Chefs Society will be announced on March 29. For more information, go to deadchefssociety.net or follow @deadchefssociety on Instagram.