Pop-up dinners in Charm City – Dinner Lab starts this weekend
Supper clubs are becoming more and more popular across the country…and now we have a new one, Dinner Lab. And it sounds pretty cool.
I had the chance to speak with Dinner Lab CEO Brian Bordainick last week and it was one of those conversations where you’re so into what you’re talking about you almost can’t stop. (Or maybe that was just my end of the phone call…nerd.) I was really interested in hearing more about this (almost) two year old company.
So, maybe you’ve heard about this dinner series. Here’s a little Q&A with Brian that digs a little deeper…
Why Baltimore? We talked about similarities between New Orleans and Baltimore – our scrappy nature, being pigeon-holed for certain dishes and cuisines (i.e., gumbo and crab cakes…). What made you want to come to Baltimore?
BB: I think you touch on the point quite well here. We love cities that are unique in nature and a little bit scrappy. Baltimore, like New Orleans gets falsely advertised as one thing, but those who live there know that it is so much more. We’re as tired of the Treme references as you are of The Wire ones…at least we both got shows on HBO. Bottom line -Baltimore is attracting culinary talent from all over the world, and we want to tap into that.
How do you choose chefs? What kinds of chefs interest you? This is focused on up-and-coming chefs. Can established exec chefs help you out in any way?
BB: Up and coming chefs are the best for us. We love to work with chefs who are trying to get their name out there and get out on their own. We like to get them to put forward interesting menu concepts that will hopefully resonate with our membership base. We use our internal networks and do some cultivated reach out as well. We will work with Executive Chefs occasionally, but we really look for them to drive forward a menu that they aren’t cooking on a daily basis.
What makes Dinner Lab different?
BB: We believe that there is a changing narrative in food and people are looking for their experiences to be both amazing and super approachable. We’ve cultivated a pretty serious network so we can take chefs from Baltimore and put them in the rest of the country as they demonstrate success. Our difference lies in the volume of events in addition to the network that we have.
How will you choose dinner locations? Can people contact you if they have a cool space?
BB:100% We are always looking for great chefs and for great locations.
How do you see the food scene changing overall? People are getting more and more ‘foodie-esque’ – sometimes that can be a little pretentious. Dinner Lab seems to be the opposite of that. More normal. A more approachable (and affordable) version of Outstanding in the Field.
BB: We are not pretentious, but things are changing and people are looking for new and great, but don’t necessarily want the aura of a white table cloth place.
Once people join, what happens?
BB: They can create a profile to help us tailor events to them and they can start signing up for events.
I see the menu and chef for the first dinner on August 15. Where will it be? Or when will diners find out?
BB: Locations are released 24 hours before.
Dinner Lab is like a pop-up supper club or, as the folks at Dinner Lab call it, a social dining experience. Members pay $125 to join and then, a few times a month, they are able to choose from chefs and menus and the dinners can run anywhere from $50-70 per person. Members may bring up to three guests, all of whom pay for their dinners, too. Alcohol and gratuity is included. Each time you attend a dinner, your feedback and suggestions are shared with the chef – that way, they get better and better. Chefs can also continue to travel and cook, creating more and more dinners…honing their skills over time. That’s great. Chefs are also encouraged to cook “their food.” You know, the food they never get to do in the kitchen in the restaurant where they work.
First Baltimore Dinner Lab: Friday, August 15
$55 per person (includes drinks and tip!)
A New Orleans native who chased her culinary dreams to NYC, chef Nini Nguyen is chock full of southern charm and big city efficiency — not to mention some crazy skills in the kitchen. After falling in love with cooking as a kid in her Vietnamese grandmothers’ kitchens, she attended a local pastry arts program and perfected her craft in professional kitchens, learning from Tariq Hanna of Sucre, Zak Miller of Coquette, and eventually Angela Pinkerton at Eleven Madison Park. Her cooking style is mostly influenced by her Vietnamese background but you will also see subtle notes of her Creole, Cajun and pastry techniques. We are now proud to call her Dinner Lab’s New York City Sous Chef. We’re excited to showcase Nini and bring you something truly special.
“A Nguyen – Nguyen Situation”
Nem Nuong Spring Rolls: grilled Vietnamese sausage | peanut & sambal sauce | rice paper | mint
Chili Glazed Riibs: Viet-coriander leaves | fish sauce | thai chili
Blackened Lemongrass Catfish: cabbage salad | nuoc mom dressing
Caramelized pork belly: jasmine rice | cucumber
Che choui coconut sorbet, peanut crumble, caramelized bananas
I joined…you should, too!