By Jason A. Heidemann. Photographs by Mikey Corona and Brian Riggenbach.|
Mikey Corona and Brian Riggenbach didn’t anticipate the kind of responses they’d get when they placed an ad in the Chicago Free Press last fall seeking “goodies.” The couple wanted to pique the interest of gay foodies for Yo Soy (Spanish for “I am” and also a play on the Chinese staple), their underground supper club that happens monthly in the couple’s Lakeview apartment. “It was a cheesy word we coined for gay men that enjoy food,” says Corona as he hands us a michelada, a refreshing Mexican libation that we’re taste testing to prep for the next event. “The gay community kind of misinterpreted what that meant, which we thought was kind of funny. They were asking for our goodies. That can be arranged as well, but that’s a different underground party altogether.”
Yo Soy, happening again Sunday 16, adds to the current craze of underground supper clubs sweeping cities like San Francisco, New York and Chicago. But it includes a queer twist in that its founders have an eye on cultivating an LGBT following (although not to the exclusion of hetero diners). We couldn’t resist an invitation to attend their April 18 dinner, which we were told would include a whimsical, multicourse Mexican-Chinese fusion meal paired with cocktails and wine for 12 guests and followed by post-dinner live music and “a fierce game of lotería [Mexican bingo].” We were not disappointed.
Corona and Riggenbach’s modest Boystown pad is painted in lively colors and cluttered with girthy coffee-table books by celebrity chefs. The walls are adorned with Riggenbach’s art. As we arrive and mingle with fellow guests (including a panoply of gays and straights both local and from cities like Houston and SF), we’re handed cocktails by another queer couple who operate a movable bar from which they mix donation-based libations at galleries around town.
Dinner is served around a carefully decorated, albeit makeshift, dining-room table; Corona sits at the head while Riggenbach and a kitchen assistant do the cooking. Each place setting is marked with a placard that includes our name and the evening’s menu. Our first course, egg-drop sopa, is a hybrid of egg-drop soup and Mexican sopa de ajo. It’s surprisingly light, given the flavor combinations, but has a delicate oomph to it. The second course, papas rellenas (stuffed potato balls) with orange chile chicken, injects a traditional Latin-American food with an Asian twist. It’s a standout dish, and we can’t resist a round of sexual jokes at the expense of these giant and tempting balls. Our main course, pork belly over garden-fresh shaved spring vegetables with cilantro ginger rice, is tender and earthy and leaves just enough room for dessert, an airy lime panna cotta with pineapple raspa. The experience is augmented by copious amounts of red wine and costs just $50—a donation to cover expenses. Afterward, Riggenbach’s co-worker, an emerging singer-songwriter, plays a few songs for us along with her husband. It’s an enchanting evening.
Corona, 34, and Riggenbach, 29, say their passion for food developed individually. Corona’s interest in gastronomy springs from his Corpus Christi, Texas, childhood where his roughly dozen aunts and more than 60 cousins would gather at Grandma’s to share traditional Mexican dishes. Riggenbach, meanwhile, was raised in the tony Gulf Coast enclave of Naples, Florida, and followed his bliss to points abroad including France, Italy and Mexico where he both indulged in regional cuisines and taught himself how to cook them. “I’ve always been cooking,” says Riggenbach as he hands us a spoonful of braised pork spare ribs over a citrus and cumin salad. “I would go to the fish markets in Genoa, Italy, and learn how to make salt-baked cod or hang out at a friend’s kitchen in Pueblo, Mexico, and learn how to make mole.” They also say that combining Mexican and Chinese cooking isn’t so strange and point to the current craze of food carts in L.A. serving Chinese tacos.
Both hold four-year degrees (Riggenbach in fine art and Corona in art and design), but are working front-of-the-house restaurant jobs to pursue their true passion, opening a restaurant called Yo Soy in the near future. The monthly supper club serves as an incubator for an eventual restaurant, and beyond that offers a chance for Riggenbach and Corona to help feed Boystown—a neighborhood woefully deprived of top-notch restaurants. “It’s about sharing a passion,” says Riggenbach of the venture that officially launched in June 2009. “This is what we love to do, and we want to find people who enjoy it as well.” Corona agrees: “Welcoming guests into our home is welcoming them into our lives,” he says. “It’s Brian’s artwork all over the walls; it’s sitting up until 4 in the morning coming up with recipes. This is our life, this is what we do.”