New Orleans has given us po’boys, Dixieland music and Richard Simmons, and now you can add another unique contribution to the list: Dinner Lab.
Founded by Brian Bordainick in 2012, Dinner Lab is billed as a “membership-based social dining experiment” – in other words, it’s not your typical pop-up dining experience. Featuring up-and-coming chefs, with bold menus and housed in secret locations, Dinner Lab aims to pair adventuresome foodies with chefs who deserve their moment in the spotlight.
“What separates Dinner Lab from other supper clubs is the fact that we use all of the variables that most restaurants seek to control to use as a platform for experimentation,” says Bordainick. “We have made chaos our business model. We change the space, chef, menu and people each time to truly create a once in a lifetime experience, two times a week per market.”
Dinner Lab has featured some of Austin’s brightest chefs including John Bates from Noble Pig Sandwich Company, Nathan Lemley from Parkside and Josh Watkins from The Carillon. Each meal is personal to the chef and allows them to stretch their wings and get creative with their skills.
“We have made chaos our business model.”
Due to Dinner Lab’s New Orleans success, Austin seemed like a logical second city to launch in (they now boast locations in ten cities).
“We chose Austin for a large host of reasons,” says Bordainick. “When you look at what is happening in food in Austin, you have this juxtaposition of old world and new world and the city is attracting the best culinary talent that the world has to offer.”
In just under two months, their Austin membership swelled to over 500 members. Because of this, dinners sell out almost immediately once they are announced via email on Wednesday morning. In order to keep the experience fresh and available to all members, Dinner Lab Austin hosts two dinners a week – one during the work week and one over the weekend. Each dinner features a multi-course meal with alcohol and gratuity included in the initial cost of the meal – so there’s never a need to bring cash to the event.
To add to the excitement, the location is not divulged to the guest until the day before the event. These creative pop-up locations, expertly picked by Market Director Michelle Llaguno, have included a vintage motorcycle shop, warehouse spaces in East Austin and offices in South Austin.
For Chef John Bates’ dinner, guests arrived to an industrial complex with rows of tables set against a room of exposed brick, and string lights that glowed beneath metal rafters. Though the staff is busily moving about, the atmosphere is relaxed and conversational. The communal dining lends well to making new friends, as does the seemingly endless supply of alcohol – Dinner Lab’s staff greets you with a handmade cocktail when you arrive, and has them on the ready when you want another.
Chef Bates treated guests to a six course menu including rabbit in a kombu broth with creamy smoked shiitake mushrooms (course number one), delicious, slow-cooked deckle with late season tomato, sugar cured ginger and lime (course number five) and sweet prickly pear with chocolate ganache and basil custard (course number six).
Is your mouth watering yet?
Due to the success of Dinner Lab Austin, membership has been on hold for most of 2013. This coming year, however, sees new openings available for those interested in starting the year with a culinary adventure. For 2014 the program will tap into even more of Austin’s ambitious culinary talent with upcoming dinners from Chef Jacob Barry of Second Bar & Kitchen, and Chef Christopher Ball of Olivia.
Also stay tuned as the company is expected to introduce a new happy hour concept later in the year – proving that Dinner Lab, like our famed city, is constantly evolving.
This article originally published in The Renew Issue of Citygram Austin Magazine [January 2014].
Explore the full issue on your desktop here or download the FREE mobile issue designed specifically for your iPhone or iPad in the App Store today.
Culture & Lifestyle Columnist
Lauren is a freelance writer and screenwriter from Austin, Texas.
She was born in Central NY during the Reagan administration and as a child enjoyed wearing suits and fantasized about being middle-aged Jewish men, most notably four out of the five Marx Brothers, Rod Serling and Woody Allen.
She co-wrote and co-produced the feature film Loves Her Gun. Her work has appeared in several outlets including The Guardian, and xoJane.