McGeeney, who is 35 and works for a research consulting company, turned her passion for food and restaurants into a dream hobby in 2016, when Michelin decided to include Washington in its coverage. McGeeney decided to eat at all 107 restaurants listed in D.C.’s inaugural 2017 guide and chronicle the adventure through a blog, Mission Michelin, and an Instagram account, @MissionMichelin, that now has around 7,000 followers.
With a keen eye toward creating a brand for herself—she admits she wants to be an official Michelin brand ambassador—McGeeney cultivated relationships with the chefs at the restaurants she visited. Afterward, she posted on social media pictures of herself (guide in hand) with the chefs, along with pictures of their food, lavishing praise on both in her commentary.
“I remember her first year going to every restaurant in the [Michelin] guide and not asking for freebies,” says chef Erik Bruner-Yang, who recently opened ABC Pony in Washington and cooked for the supper club in January. “Being super nice went a really long way for her.”
McGeeney grew up in Ithaca, New York, the only child of a single working mother. “We went out to dinner six days a week and [would] become friends with the restaurateurs,” she says. Her mother would take her to fine-dining bastions like Le Bernardin and the Four Seasons when McGeeney lived in New York City while attending The New School, a private research university.
When she moved to Washington in 2008 to work for Gallup, McGeeney kept up with the city’s hot restaurants, but once she got married, moved to the suburbs and had kids, that changed. “I was out to lunch with girlfriends one day and they were talking about restaurants and neighborhoods I never heard of,” she says. That’s when McGeeney resolved to eat her way through the District’s Michelin Guide.
As Mission Michelin caught on, public relations representatives started inviting McGeeney to eat for free in restaurants. Michelin paid more attention, too—the company now pays for her hotel expenses and airfare to attend their star reveals in other American cities, such as Los Angeles and New York.
The supper club was a natural outgrowth of McGeeney’s forays. “I was setting up these dinners out, so I thought, why not bring the chefs [to my house]?” she says. Her husband, John, who prefers not to participate, tends to the couple’s 4-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter upstairs while McGeeney is downstairs during the dinners.
At first, the dinners were held a few times a month; now they’re almost weekly. Many first-timers have become repeat attendees. The Gravitas dinner exceeded expectations for one of them, Malak Al Kaud of Arlington, Virginia. “It’s a different experience than you’d have in the restaurant itself, and that has an added value for me,” she says, noting that the group’s mutual interest in fine dining was another benefit. “It was refreshing to talk about something other than the current political climate.”