A Roman curator reinvents communal and design-conscious dining experiences
Our Secret Table hosts intimate dinners in secret locations, and identifies a long overdue need to diversify its city’s culinary portfolio, Rome
Features > A Roman curator reinvents communal and desig…

Although the Italian capital boasts unparalleled relationships with food and art, the dining project Our Secret Table establishes a marriage that Rome has long missed. Merging curatorial practice and exclusive dining as a gesture of love, its founder reassesses the true essence of la dolce vita.

Born out of the love for her city and a curiosity for unusual hidden places, Our Secret Table is the brainchild of Valentina Guttuso, artistic director and founder of design and event agency TALEA. Keen to push the boundaries of traditional Roman environments, Guttuso’s eye for architecture and spatial design unites people at locations across Rome that remain top-secret until the last minute, while she has kicked off a movement focused on conviviality and social experimentation.

“Rather classic” are the terms that spring to Guttuso’s mind when describing the local food scene and the scarceness of pop-ups comparable to regular occurrences in cities such as Berlin or London. “There are certainly interesting scenarios and realities but, in my opinion, too large a slice of this business is linked to mass tourism and conventional restaurants, be they historical or new, which is unfortunate. These phenomena often lead to fast-gastronomic proposals without quality, research and identity,” says Guttuso. Recognizing a breeding ground to enrich formats, the trained contemporary art historian and curator eagerly implements her vision for the intersection of event production and creativity: “With Our Secret Table, I want to break up these codes and shine a light on food outside of traditional canonical spaces.”

“It’s the idea of other people falling in love with spaces that bewitched me at first sight, and creating a climate that is warm, convivial, and stimulating.”

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Shifting between environment and setting, space and food, the monthly event proves how contemporary design and rustic charm aren’t mutually exclusive: Our Secret Table equally screams Roman Holiday mixed with a modern-day urban retreat. At long wooden tables with carefully curated settings and flower arrangements, positioned between towering bookshelves, retro furnishings and state-of-the-art kitchen counters, creative locals rub shoulders to witness renowned cooks infuse gastronomic energy into offbeat locations that vary from private apartments or gardens to public art galleries. “It’s the idea of other people falling in love with spaces that bewitched me at first sight, and creating a climate that is warm, convivial, and stimulating at the same time,” Guttuso muses. “The atmosphere is always beautiful. The first guests who arrive help the chef make the last preparations for the dinner,” the founder continues. Naturally, they are greeted with wine or prosecco, and an amuse-bouche. Kept dark until the very last minute, the four-course menu is introduced by each individual chef—the project’s inaugural dishes in October were entirely dedicated to the flavors and aromas of the season with mushrooms, black cabbage, chestnuts and pumpkin.

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Hosted in an open-plan, airy loft in the heart of Rome, the first venue also successfully anticipated the project’s distinctive DNA: However different the locations, it’s their poetic aspect that permeates the series, representing Rome from historical, stylistic, and aesthetic point of views. “Currently, we are looking for a cool outdoor space to suit the summer time, such as a Roman terrace or a big wild garden,” Guttuso says. “Each individual dinner unfolds from that decision, including the staging, collaborators, and the chef that could best interpret the event.”

“Rome needs and deserves a sort of Renaissance in terms of projects, content, creativity and imagination.”

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The creative team always involve people who share the project’s philosophy, and trust their vocation to either reinterpret or pay tribute to their Mediterranean identity and traditions. “Generally, we let our chefs express themselves and share their ideas with us before we co-write the menu, which always involves different culinary realities,” Guttuso explains. On the local note, the founder remarks that every chosen ingredient is sourced within close proximity: “We mainly buy from markets and direct producers—seasonal products are fundamental to taste and authenticity.”

Each event, Guttuso witnesses guests remaining at the table to chat and interact long after the food is finished. “The driving force of Our Secret Table is to amaze and engage guests within an apparently just gastronomic experience. Our strength is to involve creative people who like to share a table and discover food,” she says. Additionally, the founder sees the opportunity to nurture original content by introducing guests to inventive and virtuous brands; from wine and raw materials to fabrics and table objects, Our Secret Table collaborates with various local sponsors to realize one-off, exclusive 360-degree-experiences filling gaps in a gradually developing, yet stagnant food scene.

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“Generally, we let our chefs express themselves and share their ideas with us before we co-write the menu, which always involves different culinary realities.”

“The project does not pretend to be better than anything else, but stems from a deep desire to somehow renew the Roman panorama,” Guttuso explains. “The fact that it was born in Rome has an immense value for me. It’s like a gesture of love: Rome needs and deserves a sort of Renaissance in terms of projects, content, creativity and imagination. And I sincerely believe that this is going to happen soon,” she adds.

From its launch in October 2017, Our Secret Table has developed into a monthly event that hosts up to 30 people. Although communal in atmosphere, the evenings are intimate, and even the menu remains top-secret until the guests arrive; the organizers only inform their guests of the dinner’s theme. The next edition of the project, on 21 April, will revolve around spring. To sign up, visit TALEA’s website.

Text: Ann-Christin Schubert
Photography: Giorgio Guerrieri and Andrea Di Lorenzo