The Cooks


Efrain Cuevas

While working in Berkeley, CA, Efrain was invited to a “Ghetto Gourmet” underground dinner party in Oakland, an opportunity that later earned both him and the underground movement a feature in the LA Times food section. In 2007 Efrain returned back home to Chicago and launched Clandestino, a community dining project focused on sourcing fresh ingredients locally, cooking seasonally, and collaborating with local chefs and artists. In 2008, Clandestino Dining was named one of the “World’s 10 Best Secret Dining Clubs” by Travel and Leisure magazine. In 2011, after years of catering and underground dinner parties, Cuevas was offered an opportunity to be head chef at a charter elementary school on the South side of Chicago. As the only public school in Chicago where all food is made from scratch using organic ingredients, Efrain introduced a new menu featuring more Latin flavors. Today he lives in Los Angeles and is Executive Chef for East West Dining Group.  


Mariely Santiesteban 

Mariely started with Clandestino in 2009, as the wandering dishwasher, washing dishes in venues all over the city. She was no stranger to the kitchen either, being the head cook at home, preparing meals for her whole family every day after school. Mariely quickly assumed more cooking responsibilities at Clandestino dinner parties: making the pasta dough and rolling it out perfectly, breaking down chickens with minimal waste, and finishing the sauces before they were served to dinner guests. In 2011, Mariely graduated from North Grand High School, and as an alumnus of both Pro-Start and CCAP, she was awarded a full scholarship to culinary school. Mariely is on her way to earning her Bachelor's degree in Hospitality Management. Between class and homework, Mariely cooks at Clandestino events around Chicago. 



Willie Wagner  

Willie has been a supporter of Clandestino from it's early beginnings, but it wasn't until 2010, when Willie built 2 beehives on the South side of Chicago, that his connection with underground dining came full circle. As the sole honey supplier to the Clandestino Kitchen, Willie was increasingly curious how his honey was being used by the chefs and wanted to spend more time in the kitchen. Already a celebrated cook among his friends and family, Willie was a welcome addition to the team, bringing his mad BBQ and trash-talking skills to the Clandestino kitchen. 



Vicki Fowler 

Vicki Fowler is an artist with a strong base steeped in performance art. She firmly believes in calling the kettle black, preaching while standing on a good kitchen pot, the power of food bringing us all together, using a ladle to shine a light on who we are, and the re-enactment of her Grandmothers’ chicken and dumpling recipe as a performative means to finding true love. Vicki first collaborated with Clandestino as a curating artist in 2007, quickly embracing the notion of response menu and art, she began curating dinner events in artist's studios all around Chicago. Vicki is the founder of what is now known as The Whole Artist Dinner Series, and continues to work with local artists, assembling unique, layered collaborative dinners in Chicago and elsewhere. Check out Vicki's portfolio at