Everyone wants to be a critic. Here’s your chance, so sharpen your pencil.
Actually, you don’t even have to sharpen your pencil. Dinner Lab takes care of that for you. Along with everything else you need to fully experience a new kind of monthly underground supper club, from drinks to a multi-course meal prepared by an up-and-coming chef, to an evaluation sheet and a sharpened pencil.
Dinner Lab is a membership based social dining platform operating in 33 (and growing) cities. The premise is this: pay an annual membership fee (currently $125) and gain access to monthly dinners featuring local up-and-coming chefs or out-of-town chefs Dinner Lab brings to town.
Members get an email announcing the following month’s chef and menu (but not the location — that’s a secret until just before the event, revealed only to those who bought a ticket — which might run $55 or $75 or more). As you savor your meal at community tables with like-minded foodies, you’re encouraged to fill out the guest chef feedback form. Dinner Lab collects the surveys and tallies the results, which are sent to the chef and to the diners a few weeks later.
Dinner Lab whirled into Phoenix in April, with a spectacular setting on the Tempe Town Lake bridge. Featuring Dinner Lab traveling chef Nini Nguyen and a five-course Vietnamese theme, the first event was a little rocky, according to The Phoenix New Times.
Not surprisingly, the evening ran smooth as silk. Taylor’s menu was playful and Southern, through and through. Charred spot prawns swimming in a bright cucumber consomme with sake-cured trout roe were fantastic, but ultimately didn’t rate well with diners. I can only guess it was because they weren’t sure how to attack it. But it was a bold, striking beginning to the superb — but safer — dishes that followed, like Carolina Gold rice grits with black garlic puree and smoked tomatoes; salt baked sablefish with ham hock gumbo sauce and curried cauliflower; maple-braised pork cheek with caramelized parsnip and a wisp of crunchy chicharones (the night’s winner, according to diners); and Taylor’s riff on his favorite childhood Canadian dessert, a “nanaimo bar” jazzed up with yuzu custard, pecan butter and ancho chili sauce.
The next Phoenix Dinner Lab is Thursday, August 13th, featuring New Orleans chef Tan Uckan, and a dinner called Cagdas Turk: Back to the Future of Turkish Cuisine. September 17 will feature Phoenix up-and-comer chef Adam Allison and his ChattaVegas themed meal, blending the American South (Chattanooga, Tennessee, specifically) with the Southwest.
Dinner Lab has made a helpful change since they began. You can now sign up on their website without committing to a membership to see the events in your area. However, if you want to attend, you do have to buy the annual membership first. But at least you’ll have a idea of what’s coming down the pike.
If you love to eat out and love the social aspect of meeting new people (we sat next to a symphony musician), then Dinner Lab might be for you. Bonus: you get to play restaurant critic for the evening — and the feedback is helpful to the featured chef.
If you’re a sous chef or line cook looking to test your own food out on a live audience, Dinner Lab is looking for you. Check the website for details.
For more information, visit http://dinnerlab.com.