What if you let your chef chose your meal for you? What if you didn't even know the location of said meal until 24 hours before your reservation? And what if you were told to leave your high heels at home?
Welcome to the unusual dining experience that is Dinner Lab, a three-year-old New Orleans-based members-only culinary club that hosts 24-hour experimental pop-up restaurants in 31 U.S. cities —and boasts no fees. It launched as a monthly event in Boston in late February, and has since grown to a bi-monthly affair. Members are notified of the events' theme and chef, and a few weeks in advance can purchase tickets ranging $50-$80 per person. Boozy pairings, a multi-course meal and gratuity are all included.
The secret location adds to the spontaneity of the evening, as do the vague environmental restrictions, including a “no stilettos” policy adopted for a recent evening at Central Square's Green Street Studios. “You can’t prepare in the same way you might usually prepare for a night out [at a restaurant],” says former Boston Community Manager Mara Littman.
Previous events include an homeage to Malasysian cuisine with Chef Mario Rodriguez at the Chevalier Theater in Medford and Chef Geoff Lukas' From Land to Sea menu at the Boston Button Factory on Melcher Street. This Friday, Dec. 18, Journeyman alumn and Keflavik, Iceland native Chef Robb Morrell will present an winter root vegetable-focused menu, with hay roasted celeriac and grilled mackerel with preserved seabuckthorn on the menu. (The location is still TBA, but we do know the night ends with goat cheese ice cream with kombucha poached squash.)
The events also offer an opportunity for aspiring and developing chefs to workshop menus and cuisines for a crowd. Following the meal, guests are asked to review each course, and provide feedback to the culinary team.
Take Joubert Amazan, a 27-year-old South Ender who will make his Dinner Lab debut in early January. The first-generation Haitian-American will introduce a haute twist on the cuisine he grew up eating — including a traditional Soup Joumou, a pumpkin-squash braised-beef stew typically served on New Year's Day to celebrate Haiti's 1804 independence from France.
Amazan begin working as an on-call cook at Dinner Lab in April with Chef Lukas and says the experience has helped him grow his culinary experience beyond the kitchen.
"It's better than working at a restaurant for a year and moving on, because you get to experience different types of chefs and cuisines and their techniques," he says.
And since Dinner Lab is a naturally social event — with a cocktail hour, communal seating and mingling between kitchen staff and guests — the direct feedback from diners is as unavoidable as it is invaluable.
"You can tell from the way guests were eating through courses what they're really enjoying," says Amazan. "Guests will also approach us and chat when we're breaking down after the event. Itmakes me happy to get that kind of feedback. You know what you need to work on."