You’ve got to start somewhere if you aspire to become an excellent chef, which is why the idea of Dinner Lab is so ingenious. This edgy, members-only supper club serves to elevate the kitchen unknowns–those inspired sous chefs and culinary up-and-comers quietly working at that stellar restaurant around the block or across the country–to crowds of foodies, gathered in auspicious locales around Atlanta once or twice a week.
One Dinner Lab event was held in Studio A on Dekalb Avenue in Atlanta — Photo courtesy of Teodora Nicole / Caren West PR
The concept (which feels very much like a hipster surprise party) has taken off in 10 cities across the country, including New Orleans, New York and Chicago. It landed in Atlanta in early 2014. Unlike the typical supper club, whose dinner menus and locales tend to be announced in advance by email, Dinner Lab likes to veil its events in mystery.
Though hints are given regarding the menu and the chef of the night, the dinner location is kept under wraps until just before the dinner, which adds to the hype when attendees take in their surroundings at an empty warehouse, an underground art gallery or a boxing arena (which are all examples of recent Atlanta rendezvous). In any given year, members can taste foods prepared by as many as 50 under-the-radar chefs.
Social mixing is a must at these dinners, since you’ll be seated among strangers of all ages and backgrounds. Fellow club members love food and are social creatures, so don’t be shy–though the food and location are natural ice breakers. And, while the food leans high-end, dress and attitudes are casual and welcoming. This isn’t your grandma’s supper club, after all.
Another Dinner Lab supper featured a seafood-heavy dinner by rising Atlanta chef Brandon Chavannes — Photo courtesy of Teodora Nicole / Caren West PR
The food, though, steals the show. It all feels very much like one of those nail-biting cooking competitions where a chef is thrown into an unlikely location and presented with the daunting task of creating the most inventive menu he can muster for a crowd of critics in a non-restaurant environment. But, what better test of a chef’s acumen or ability to run a restaurant of one’s own than a trial by fire?
Attendees, who pay for their dinners in advance (On top of the annual membership fee of $125, dinner prices begin at $50 and include dinner, the night’s specialty cocktail, wine and/or beer and gratuity.), indulge in at least five cleverly crafted courses that show off the chef’s skill set, and play judge to what dishes work and what don’t on comment cards at the end.
Savory fried octopus by former Pura Vida chef Brandon Chavannes — Photo courtesy of Teodora Nicole / Caren West PR
Crowd feedback is a critical part of Dinner Lab’s mission–helping up-and-coming chefs hone their skills and prepare them for opening restaurants of their own. Currently, the company is taking a handful of their most popular chefs for a tour to all 10 of their markets to determine which chef has the most fan favorites. Then, they will open a restaurant for the chef with the best customer feedback. Talk about customer service.
Supper club + underdog story? Sold.
To see upcoming Atlanta Dinner Lab dates and chefs, visit DinnerLab.com.