Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?
Austin and New Orleans have long since shared a love of revelry and rich food, and now they share a supper club that hopes to showcase the best of both of those worlds. After a few weeks soft launch events, Dinner Lab, founded by Brian Bordainick and Francisco Robert, officially makes its foray into Austin's creative culinary scene with membership-based, pop-up dining experiences featuring talented up-and-coming chefs in unique locations.
A culinary and social experiment, Dinner Lab has around 200 members in New Orleans who have enjoyed the likes of Korean, Ethiopian and Bolivian five-course meals in unlikely venues such as a parking garage, an under-construction townhouse and a gutted office suite inside a downtown skyscraper.
"The location is just as important as the food," says Amy Chan, manager at Dinner Lab. "It changes the entire dining experience. Basically we'll go anywhere that's not a restaurant."
And just because the group isn't originally from Austin doesn't mean they don't know what's unique in this town: A recent soft launch event was held at Slackerville, the plot of land tucked behind End of an Ear records on South First, and featured Nicaraguan cuisine, including a particularly standout rendition of Rondon — a sweet, soft dish of white fish, yucca, sweet potato and coconut.
As for the showcasing chefs, Dinner Lab selects them a few different ways. First and foremost, the company hopes to give chefs flirting with the idea of an independent career a chance to showcase their stuff outside of a regular restaurant job. On the other hand, there are plenty of happily employed chefs who simply like to experiment and cook for friends on their days off and, for these reasons, are attracted to the one-off Dinner Lab platform.
"We ask each chef to come up with their own menu and they work directly with our culinary team to ensure quality and also the ability to execute properly for events of our size," Director of Operations Drew Barrett explains, adding that they have a prep kitchen in Austin where most of the work is done prior to arrival at the venue.
Throughout the evening, the bar is open and flowing, inevitably encouraging table mates to talk and get to know one another — the very least of which Dinner Lab hopes to accomplish.
"One of the best parts of Dinner Lab for me is watching individuals who didn't know each other before a meal bond and connect over good food and drink," says Barrett. "At one of our soft launch events, we had a number of people show up as groups of two that ended up leaving together to continue the night … It's a way of congregating with people from your community who enjoy food."
To join, members pay a yearly fee and are required to sign up for each event individually at a smaller cost. Ticket prices include food, drink and cover tip, meaning diners don't have to do anything but indulge and watch the experiment before them unfold.
Dinner Lab launches Friday, May 10. Memberships are available online.