Eric Stein was online, begrudgingly watching Top Chef audition tapes, trying to figure out why he hadn't made the cut. After all, he's a chef, an instructor at Johnson & Wales and a registered dietitian who owns a company that teaches people how to eat well. He even has a master's of science. "What did these folks have that I don't?" Stein wondered. But wait. What did that last guy say? Stein clicked back on his computer. Something about "ghetto gourmet." A few more clicks later, and Stein became the founder and first member of the Denver chapter of Ghetto Gourmet, a four-year-old social-networking site that connects food lovers of all sorts. Jeremy Townsend started the group in Oakland; it's since grown to more than thirty chapters worldwide.
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"I really was unaware of underground restaurants before I started looking into the Ghetto Gourmet," says Stein. "I want to start now by having events at local restaurants that I know are really good but that are being missed by the general population. My plan is to have Secret Supper Thursdays, and work with chefs to plan multi-course menus designed specifically for my group." And that's just the start of his plans for the chapter in Denver, which he thinks has a food scene that can compete on the level of Chicago, New York and cities on the West Coast. "Every day, new ideas and possibilities present themselves, and I am really excited about moving forward with these projects," says Stein, adding that he's already connected with people from different aspects of the service industry (chefs, bartenders, DJs, promoters) for future events. Although he has yet to hold the first event, more than fifty members have joined the group since he started it a month ago. "The first events will be potluck-style get-togethers where members of the GG Denver group will gather and share good food and drink, sort of in the spirit of groups associated with sites like meetup.com," he explains. The first official GGDenver event will be a tapas-style potluck held in the Berkeley neighborhood from 7 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, February 18 - and it's free. (Members RSVP on the GG Denver home page, posting their planned potluck contributions so there will be no overlap. For future events, which will cost between $30 and $80, members will respond to a PayPal account). "People are hungry for community, no pun intended, and breaking bread with someone for a night is a good way to build up a community," says Jessica Hope Twibell, who's opening her huge family home in an old school for the inaugural event. She says she may do a bit of decorating in advance, but nothing fancy. "It's about showing up, connecting, having fun and honoring food," she adds. "I love to cook and I love to eat good food, so that is my primary focus," Stein concludes. "Truth be told, I started this group as a way to meet some cool new people and throw some cool parties." Take that, Top Chef.