Dinner Lab, a members-only supper club with outposts in New Orleans, Los Angeles, and New York, among other locations, will launch in Atlanta in February or March. Led by University of Georgia graduate Brian Bordainick, Dinner Lab hires up-and-coming chefs to create multi-course meals in unusual environments. Event locations are announced the night before the event, and past themes have included "Swamp 2 Table" (backwoods Louisiana-style food paired with Brooklyn Brewery beer), "The Duck" (just what it sounds like), and "Viet-Xu circa 2006" (a twelve-course Vietnamese feast).
We sat down with Bordainick to learn more about Dinner Lab, how it works, and what to look forward to in 2014.
Why did you start Dinner Lab?
We knew we wanted to do something in food, something a little different. At the time, there weren’t many options for interesting ethnic cuisine. We started asking random chefs if they wanted to do private meals for us. We started inviting more friends and came up with the membership model to make it sustainable. We listened to the chefs at every step of the road. They wanted to do something different and wanted feedback. We keep tweaking based on what everyone says.
How is it different from all of the other supper clubs out there?
We like to give chefs a platform to experiment with new ideas for food. We work with a different chef, different menu, and different location every single time. We are bringing in culinary talent from all over the world. We get the best up-and-coming talent.
Each recipe is rated, and we can see what’s working and what’s not. Then the chef can sit down with the head chef in that market to see what they can do to get better. We might bring them to another city and do it there. That kind of exchange of ideas is a lot of fun from the culinary side.
How much does membership cost?
People pay up front. The fee varies per city. In Atlanta, membership will cost $125, and it allows members to purchase a ticket for a plus one. Membership provides access to our calendar of events—80 to 100 events per year—in all markets, so travelers can attend events in other cities. About 75 percent of our talent is local. About 25 percent comes from other markets.
How do you sign up for an event?
Events cost $50 to $75 and include tax, gratuity, and alcohol. There is no cash exchange at the event. We do signup three to four weeks before an event. We post menus every Wednesday and send members an email with the chef bio and menu.
What happens at a typical event?
We do a minimum of five courses, an average of six, and sometimes upwards of ten to twelve. We like to work with local mixologists, sommeliers, and/or wineries.
There are two to three seatings with about forty-five people each. This gives the chef the ability to get creative with plating and garnishing. We’ll have 100 to 120 people throughout the course of the night. There’s a happy hour, and people usually hang out after dinner, too.
Where does the chef cook the food?
We have a commissary kitchen in every city for prep work, but they cook on site. We have a mobile kitchen that we bring in with burners, propane tanks, generators—you name it.
What local chefs have you been talking to?
We’re combing our internal network. We find that a lot of our chefs who act as head chef for a night come back and act as line chef for a night for their friends. I can’t name names yet, but I promise they will be kick ass.