The secret location for one dinner was the top floor of an unoccupied new building. Another dinner took place in an island-based skatepark. Still others occurred at a furniture store, on a theater stage and even inside an electrical substation. With such offbeat locations throughout Prague, the Forbidden Taste crew naturally wanted to push the food and entertainment in equally wild directions with DJs, orchestras, artists, flash mobs and dishes that allow the chefs to express their culinary innovation to the fullest. Participants in the pop-up dinners never know what to expect or even where to go until they receive a text message the day of the event.
Forbidden Taste, which also hosted dinners in Belgium and Slovakia, launched in 2013 as a platform for elite local chefs to move beyond the standard restaurant experience. Founded by Ivona Hrnčiarová, Tino Hrnčiar and head chef Petr Heneš, the tasting menu pop-ups generally feature a mix of Czech, French and Asian influences, while guest chefs add their own personal touches. Recent special guests included Shahaf Shabtay (SaSaZu, Tasca Chino), reigning Slovakian Chef of the Year Lukáš Hesko (Fach), Sri Lanka-born Stephen Senewiratne (RED Pif, Mandarin Oriental Hotel), Jaroslav Zahalka (Mánes, Club des Chefs des Chefs) and former Masterchef Slovakia judge Martin Záhumenský (Urban Coterie, Pappa Mia), among others. Heneš, who also runs the Forbidden Spot, spoke with PRØHBTD about the dinners, dishes and future plans.
Before settling in Prague, you worked in kitchens in Austria, Canada, Argentina, Canada, Brazil and Indonesia. What are some techniques and ingredients you learned about in other countries that you still use today?
I like to use the manioc root from South America for desserts. It tastes great when combined with coconut milk. The malanga root from the same region often replaces Czech potatoes in my kitchen. And Weissbier from Austria—more often for drinking than cooking purposes. (Laughs.)
How would you describe the range of culinary styles—e.g., French, Italian, Austrian, Czech—that tend to make up a Forbidden Taste dinner?
Old traditional Czech meets French—two very similar cuisines—and throwing in some Asian ingredients. That tends to be my favorite go-to style. I deliberately choose intense French tastes so that I can lighten them up with the Asian [touches].
How would you describe traditional Czech food, and when you include it in a pop-up dinner, what are ways in which you give it your own spin?
I often try to redesign original recipes through different textures or forms. Instead of using braised cabbage, I will use a cabbage chip or purée.
How do you decide what guest chefs you want involved, and how do you describe the opportunity to them?
We don't make a big deal about it. The chef has to be interesting and a little bit punk. Most talented chefs already know about us so we don't have to spend much time explaining our concept. I guess the term "game without rules" can be applied here.
What are some of the more experimental dishes that you created for a Forbidden Taste event?
Perhaps the classical Asian spring roll filled with Slovakian halušky topped with pear and plum sauce. Some people expressed doubts about the combination but appreciated it as soon as they tasted it. We also upgraded the langoš with pulled meat and mango mayonnaise.
The events always take place in special locations like galleries, skate parks and the top floor of an empty skyscraper. What was the most challenging location in terms of preparing and cooking the dishes?
Most of the places have a lot in common—there is usually no water or kitchen. It's just an empty room. One of the most intense experiences took place at a public pop-up in Pragovka in November 2016. We stood in an empty dirty cold hall one day and served an eight-course menu for 50 people with a team of eight chefs and 40 members. When I think about it, that was the most challenging location to date.
Do you always have permission from the location to host a dinner?
Of course we do. Always. And if not, we sign it ourselves.
What makes the taste "forbidden"?
Well, we don't always do things with permission. Some of the sites have many restrictions—banning open fires and the use of gas, to name a few.
Your website says that people "should choose a traditional restaurant" for "true romance." Is the concern that romantic couples will be less social with other people at the dinner?
Our events offer several components, and food is just one of them. Couples don't really have the space for intimacy as we try to immerse them into the whole experience.
How are the dinners and the conversation for guests who only speak English?
The same as for the ones speaking Czech. We approach all our guests individually.
Cannabis-infused dinners are now popular in several parts of the United States, and cannabis is popular in Prague, so have you considered doing a cannabis-themed dinner?
Not until now, but it sounds like a good idea.
Along those lines, are you familiar with the alcohol brand Euphoria in Prague? The company makes spirits like cocaine vodka and cannabis absinthe.
I'm not familiar with the brand, but cocaine vodka sounds like a drink worth tasting. Thanks for the tip.
Do you ever incorporate absinthe into the meals?
No, I don't incorporate absinthe into my meals.
Are you still collaborating with Life Is Porno on the Forbidden Spot restaurant, and how would you describe the Spot?
We share a very close relationship with Life is Porno, and we consider Forbidden Spot our home.
You just did your first dinner in Bratislava. What are some of the dishes you prepared for the dinner, and how did it go?
I personally prepared three meals. Champignons, wasabi and raspberries for the starter. Lamb tongue, black root, Jerusalem artichoke, gooseberry, kohlrabi and cottage cheese for the main course. And our signature dessert, Sweet Tattoo, [which is] "tattooed" directly on the hand of the guests. The dessert consists of different ingredients such as foams, purées, creams, fruits, edible flowers and is eaten from a black tattoo glove with a spoon. The whole event was great. I worked on it with great professionals, with Martin Záhumenský and Lukáš Hesko. We do this mainly for the people and for fun. I think that we succeeded 100 percent.
David Jenison (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD.